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Mayor Walsh's speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce

September 25, 2016

Mayor's Office

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Mayor's Office

The Mayor delivered the speech to the Chamber on Tuesday, September 27. We've added context to his remarks through the annotation platform Genius.

Thank you Miceal [Chamberlain]Jim [Rooney], and everyone at the Chamber. When I spoke to you a year ago, I called for the development of an Adopt-a-School program, to create more partnerships between Boston’s business community and the Boston Public Schools. If you were there, you’ll remember some exceptional kids who stole the show that day. I want to thank the companies that answered our call for new partners, including Delta Dental, General Electric, Goodwin, Levi’s, RSM, Salsify, Whole Foods, and Vertex. 

I’m pleased to report that, with the help of the Chamber and John Hancock, we are developing a program to enable many more to join them. It’s called InvestBPS. Today you can help us launch the InvestBPS online portal we created with the help of local innovator Intrepid. It will make it easy for companies to match their interests with schools’ needs. And it will enable us to track and share the powerful results. There’s a business card on your table. If you text that number you’ll receive a link to get you started. I welcome you to join the long and growing list of companies who are helping strengthen our schools and provide students with one-of-a-kind learning experiences. I hope you agree that education should be everyone’s business.

***

I’m going to talk about our city’s economy, and I want to start by noting just a few of the opportunities we have to showcase Boston to the world this fall.

  • This week is HubWeek, a festival celebrating creativity in art, science, and technology that draws close to 50,000 attendees.
  • Starting next Tuesday, BioTech Week will draw nearly 3,000 visitors, a mark of our global leadership in the life sciences.
  • Mid-October brings us the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, a trend-setting event drawing 5,000 entrepreneurs and influencers from around the world.
  • And in November, HubSpot will hold its popular Inbound conference on business transformation in the Convention Center. That’s another 10,000 visitors.

When these innovators and investors come here, they will experience a city that is flourishing. Since 2014, $12 billion worth of development has entered the pipeline. Right now we’ve got $6 billion under construction. Long-neglected opportunities downtown are finally moving forward. They include a new Millennium Partners tower in Winthrop Square that promises mixed-income housing, exciting public space, and last, but by no means least, a boost to city revenues. And, for the first time, we’ve been able to spread this investment out into our neighborhoods. Major mixed-use projects are moving forward in Dorchester, Roxbury, South Boston, Allston, and Charlestown, to name a few.

After conducting our first comprehensive study of the small business sector, we now know we have 40,000 small businesses operating across the city, generating $15 billion in annual revenue and creating 170,000 jobs. Citywide, unemployment is below 4%, our lowest rate in over 15 years.

We are consistently ranked among the very best cities in the U.S. for entrepreneurs. Most recently, Pitchbook confirmed that we are second only to the Bay Area for the total number of successful venture capital investments, with twice as many startups moving to the next level as our nearest competitor, which happens to be New York.

Our leadership in the life sciences continues to grow. And we are rising to the top of key growth sectors, like clean tech, cybersecurity, 3-D printing, software, and advanced manufacturing. Early this year we announced an agreement for General Electric to move their global headquarters to Boston. GE has now taken up residence on the South Boston waterfront, giving us a global anchor firm for the digital industry that draws in all these growth sectors and more.

We have the opportunity in Boston to launch the next generation of technologies that will change the world. That holds the promise, not just of global influence and investment, but of good jobs for a wide range of skill sets. In recent weeks, we’ve seen firms like AutoDesk, Flextronics, and Continuum move to Boston and set up the kind of facilities that help bridge the gap between innovation and manufacturing in our economy.

This kind of diversification is important, because we need to be thinking about our resilience as well as our growth. If history is any guide, we need to be prepared for turbulence and we need to build for long-term success. I’ll touch on a few things we are doing to meet this imperative.

We are building housing for our growing workforce. Our Housing Plan set a goal of 53,000 units by the year 2030. As of this month, we have completed nearly 10,500 units. We have another 7,200 under construction, and more than 17,000 in the pipeline. That puts us close to 40,000 units, or 74% of the way to our goal—well ahead of schedule.

But it’s no time to let up. The struggle of middle- and lower-income workers to find housing they can afford is not just a social problem, it’s a business problem. It’s why we are seeking to add Boston to the list of 160 cities and towns across the Commonwealth that make use of the Community Preservation Act. For a 1% surcharge, the CPA will unlock tens of millions of dollars for housing every year, while protecting open space and historic buildings. I want to thank the businesses that met with me to discuss the benefits of the CPA. And I urge all our residents to vote Yes on Question 5 in November. It’s good for business and good for quality of life in Boston.

Our future also depends on digital infrastructure. We need to make sure residents and businesses have the best possible access to the global flow of data. That’s why Verizon, per our agreement, has begun installing fiber optic cable across the city in an equitable way. We are adding new service options and moving Boston’s connection speed into the 21st century.

Finally, we are planning. We started two years ago with Boston’s most ambitious Housing Plan ever. We followed with plans in Transportation, in Climate Action, in Arts and Culture, in Open Space, and more. We are now ready to take the next step. In the coming weeks, we will roll out key priorities in Imagine Boston 2030, our first citywide plan in over 50 years. Already our planning work is bringing new community input and new investment to South Boston, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester.

To sum up, Boston has reached a position of economic leadership that is unprecedented in our history. It hasn’t been by accident. We’ve let go of the insular culture and top-down leadership of the past. We’ve deepened our core strengths and we’ve built carefully and confidently beyond them. In the language of our Imagine Boston project, what we love we are preserving, where we fell short we are enhancing, where there was stagnation we are growing. We are looking to the future and opening our arms to the world. And the world is responding.

***

As you can tell, I’m very upbeat about our economy. And I’m committed to our long-term success. But that means we have more work to do. Economists have shown that inequality makes growth slower and less sustainable. Inequality also strikes at our identity as a city of opportunity for all. I could tell you about any number of our strategies to reduce inequality. But today I want to talk about one major aspect of the challenge that we cannot reach with economic or educational policies alone. It is racial inequity.

That low unemployment figure I mentioned earlier? It’s between two and three times that number in neighborhoods of color like Roxbury and Mattapan. Similar disparities are evident in health, education, and almost every aspect of community and individual wellbeing. These disparities are rooted in history and continue presenting barriers to opportunity today. That means it’s not enough to have color-blind policies. And it’s not enough to have good intentions. Personal virtue doesn’t add up to systemic change.

I want to speak candidly about the challenge that presents. I’ll share some experience. One night when I was running for mayor, at a town hall meeting in Jamaica Plain, a woman of color asked me: what are you going to do about racism in Boston?

This issue was not new to me. For 17 years I represented one of the most diverse zip codes in the country, working closely with colleagues and constituents of color. As the head of the Building Trades, I established a program that guaranteed jobs for women and people of color. I pledged to expand opportunity in communities of color and bring historic levels of diversity to the leadership ranks in City Hall and the Boston Police Department. I’m proud to have followed through on those pledges.

But that night in Jamaica Plain, my questioner wasn’t satisfied. And neither was I. Her challenge, and others like it, have stayed with me. There are factors shaping life in Boston that, whatever my values and my intentions, I do not personally experience. As a good neighbor and as Mayor, I must strive to understand them.

So a big part of my approach to this issue has been listening to people of color in our communities and in my administration. I’ve been able to draw on these dialogues, to better understand and respond at moments of national and local tension. This experience has confirmed my belief that Boston is long overdue for a more open and intentional conversation about race.

That’s what we’ve been building towards in workshops convened by our Chief Resilience Officer. In the past couple of months, we have asked people from different communities to help us take this conversation public. I’ve gotten a lot out of these talks, but they haven’t always been easy. Some people of color wonder why they have to keep talking about this. They want to see more action. Some white people fear speaking up, in case they say the wrong thing. Others feel terms like “white privilege” deny the struggles they have experienced.

Meanwhile, people from across the city who lived through busing in the 1970s harbor bitterness. A friend said recently, “as children we coped with busing. We didn’t process it.” I would add: because we were unable to see our common interest, we didn’t get a lasting solution. We got a scar that hurt talent recruitment and neighborhood investment for a generation, and still troubles our efforts to reach educational equity.

I believe we must forge a deeper understanding of each other’s experiences. It’s the only way we will find common language for our shared challenges, and move forward as a more united and more resilient community.

This fall we will hold a series of public conversations on race and equity. These events will build on a year of community workshops. And they will launch us into a period of more open dialogue in our city. We will provide a toolkit for anyone who wants to hold a conversation in their neighborhood or workplace.

I have been told by some that this is dangerous territory for an elected official to enter, especially in their first term. I’ve been told by others that we already talk about race too much. Neither of these perspectives offers a good reason to ignore the issue. I feel deeply that it’s my duty as Mayor to address it.

It’s not just about talking. If we can deepen trust across communities, we can accelerate our progress forward. We can unlock more talent for our economy. And we can be stronger and more united in the face of whatever challenges come our way.

We have been using this resiliency framework to build toward exactly this kind of change.

  • It’s in the Office of Diversity we created to build pipelines to leadership in City Hall and beyond—and a public diversity dashboard that’s brought more transparency to this process than ever before. I also want to recognize the Chamber’s leadership in this direction, through their Business and Community Inclusion strategy.
  • It’s in an Office of Workforce Development we created that’s helping thousands of people achieve a living wage and build good credit for the first time. I want to thank employers who have led the way with living wage policies: our hospitals, Boston Medical Center, Partners Healthcare, and Tufts Medical Center; and food service innovators like Bon Me.
  • It’s in the Boston Public Schools. We have made equity a priority this year by bringing the Advanced Work Curriculum to 13 more schools and expanding access to free exam school preparation for hundreds more students.
  • You can see it in our national leadership in the My Brother’s Keeper movement to provide mentoring and opportunity for young men of color.
  • And it’s at the heart of our Economic Development policy. We are strengthening the Boston Resident Jobs Policy and working to make our contracting and procurement practices more inclusive. This year we budgeted for the city’s first comprehensive Disparity Study to better understand the barriers to city contracts for minority owned businesses. We will launch the study in partnership with other government agencies to amplify its impact.

This is the policy framework that our conversations on race are designed to deepen and advance. But of course, lasting change must go beyond city policy. We need everyone involved, including our business community. So I extend a special invitation, here at the Chamber, for employers to join our citywide conversation, whether as a participant or a host. And I ask you to take another look at the systems in your own organizations: in hiring and promotion; in contracting and procurement; in culture and community. We know there are business and nonprofit employers leading the way. Let’s share what’s working, and let’s work together to do even better.

It starts with listening. It ends with stronger relationships, stronger organizations, and a more resilient, more confident city.

***

Our ultimate goal is a sustained and equitably shared prosperity. We won’t achieve that goal without an inclusive process for managing public and private investment and without planning that can adapt to changing conditions and maintain deep community engagement. For 59 years, the Boston Redevelopment Authority has been charged with providing these functions for our city. It played a key role in many of the transformations that have brought us success. But the BRA has also been defined by moments of injustice in the 1960s and a lack of transparency in recent decades.

Today, as much as ever, democratic planning and inclusive development are vital to this city’s future. We must have an agency that works for the people and that the people trust. That’s why, since the moment I took office, we have been reforming the BRA. Under the directorship of Brian Golden, we have made great strides in transparency, efficiency, and culture.

Earlier this year, we decided it was time to reflect and empower this ongoing re-invention of the agency with a new identity and a refocused mission. We listened to residents. We talked with employees. We engaged partners and experts and we looked at other cities. Our goal was to give Boston the best-in-class planning and development systems it has always deserved. So I am proud to announce today that the result is a new vision—and a new name—for this vital agency. Here’s a short video that sums it up.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency, soon to be known as the BPDA. I know, it will take some getting used to. But I expect it will be a welcome change. This is an agency that will look to the community first and will bring solutions across the city wherever they are needed. It will ensure every resident in every neighborhood can benefit from Boston’s success.

Right off the bat, planning and development review teams will visit the neighborhoods, together, to talk about what the new process will look like. I can announce today that it will include a redesigned community meeting format, to provide more context and more clarity; and an online platform for neighborhood-specific updates and feedback. We’re going to make sure conversations are open, ongoing, and available to all.

We’ll also set up BPDA+, a program to forge collaborations with nonprofits, businesses, universities, and startups; and host innovation fellowships for leading-edge global experts.

The Boston Planning & Development Agency will be modern and state of the art, it will understand what cities of today and tomorrow need, and it will be innovative about shaping development toward those ends. With the combination of global leadership and community passion we have in our city, we deserve nothing less and we are fully capable of achieving it. I’m excited about the new possibilities we can unlock together.

***

I’ll leave you with one last point that’s of paramount importance to Boston’s future. I don’t like to get political in these forums. But the stakes for us in Washington this year are very, very high.

Boston’s economy is thriving because we have become a hub in the global network of ideas, of investments, and of people. Those conferences I mentioned are a good example. Another is Babson College’s Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence program that we helped launch earlier this year. It allows talented international students to stay in our city, and our country, to build businesses.

To maintain and grow this global role, we need an immigration system that works. We need transportation infrastructure that’s up-to-date. We need to be part of a country that invests in education, in research, and in housing. And for all these things, we need a federal partner that’s as committed as we are to sustainable growth and global leadership.

These are issues with bipartisan support. Yet too often we’ve seen Congress retreating from them instead of moving forward. And we’ve seen creep into the national conversation a desire to retreat from the world and take a defensive, fearful stance.

Right now, an isolated, divided America that’s unable or unwilling to invest in the future would be the greatest short-term threat to Boston’s economy. So I urge all of you, and every American, to undertake your civic duty with the highest seriousness as we head into election season.

In Boston we have helped set the pace of the current recovery and we have maximized the benefits of this growth. Let’s keep our success going. Let’s embrace the future and the world together, as one city and one country. Thank you and God Bless the United States of America.