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Mayor Wu Chamber of Commerce Speech 2023

On September 13, 2023, Mayor Wu delivered her Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce speech.

Click below to watch Mayor Wu's Chamber of Commerce speech for 2023. You can also read the full speech, as delivered, below.

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Watch: Chamber of Commerce Speech 2023

Chamber of Commerce Speech 2023

Good morning, good morning! 

Welcome back to fall. 

I am so honored and delighted to be with you all this morning and to see so many of Boston’s leaders, movers, visionaries here in one space. 

Thank you so much Miceal, for the very generous introduction and, more importantly, thank you for what you and your team at Bank of America do every day. 

We are particularly excited—I know you all are partnering with the City in a lot of ways, but thank you for accepting the baton from John Hancock… 

And by the way, Brooks is in the room somewhere—I was with him yesterday as they have embarked to deepen their work on health and longevity in a really exciting direction for the City. 

But to have the Boston Athletic Association secure…and shout out to Jack Fleming, who’s in the room as well…this will be an exciting new chapter for the City in the greatest race in the world.

Thank you to Secretary Hao for your leadership and for your constant presence in making sure that the City and the State are working hand-in-hand on issues that are important to this room and so many of our communities.

I’m honored to be here with my colleagues in elected office as well—I heard State Rep Bill MacGregor was in the room. Thank you for your leadership. And members of the Boston City Council and State Legislature, we’re so excited for what’s ahead for our City. 

There are former elected officials in the room in many, many different roles, and we’re grateful for your service. And, of course, the leaders within our administration: 

Cabinet members, and department heads, and officials who make this work possible every day, thank you.

And most of all, thank you to Jim—thank you to the entire Board and all of the staff and team at the Chamber for convening us for this really exciting and important chance to be together for today’s discussion. 

In my household—and I think there’s maybe a few others out there who are parents of young kids—so, fall is especially exciting because school is back. 

We get to leave behind the improvisation of summer, the go-with-the-flow of whatever might happen, and bring back the structures of having some organization around the school year! 

And this gathering also helps to mark the annual post-summer return of our regular rhythms in the business and economic community of Boston. And this is a community that I’ve really, really appreciated and valued getting to know even more over the past 18 months.

If nothing else, I’d like to reinforce today what I’m hearing from so many of you: 

On an even broader scale, the rhythms of our City and economy are returning. 

Boston’s recovery is going strong. 

And I want you to know that we, at the City of Boston, are committed to doing whatever we can to keep that momentum going, creating the conditions for Boston to grow, and grow sustainably.

So I want to start with some of the data that I’ve been looking at:

At Logan, more international passengers passed through our terminals this June than in June of 2019. 

The MBTA’s Fairmount Commuter Rail Line saw an all-time high in its ridership this year. 

And, between Q1 of last year and Q1 of this year, there’s been a 70% increase in all commuter rail trips. That’s the biggest growth year-over-year in commuter rail ridership of any major city in the country—outpacing New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, everywhere.

And those are just our transit numbers. 

The news coverage might not have caught up yet, but the reality is that we have seen the highest growth in post-pandemic hotel occupancy of any city in the country. 

Our friends at the Downtown BID (Business Improvement District) have recorded 29 consecutive months of year-over-year growth in foot traffic.

And retail is coming back, too. 

Downtown, our retail vacancy rate is 20% lower today than it was a year ago; while our overall retail vacancy rate is currently just 2.6%—not just lower than the national average, but much lower. 

New York is at nearly four-and-a-half percent, Philadelphia at nearly five percent, and Miami at almost three-and-a-half percent. 

This week on Monday, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) released their Business Confidence Index report for August, and businesses across Massachusetts remain cautiously optimistic as our economy continues to grow. 

Last year, the Boston Licensing Board issued more licenses for businesses in 2022 than in 2018 or 2019, and our unemployment rate is at a record low—half of Washington D.C.’s, and a full percentage point below the national average.

Total payroll employment in Boston is higher now than it was pre-pandemic. Professional and financial services employment up by six percent since 2020. And consumer spending in local neighborhood commercial areas is well above pre-pandemic levels with spending in neighborhoods like Roxbury, East Boston, and Roslindale up by nearly 20% compared to 2019.

And we’re beginning to see what the numbers bear out: that the city feels more alive, as more and more companies choose Boston as the place to do business. 

Since January, we’ve seen Allonnia and ArkeaBio add new labs in the Seaport and Charlestown; CycleWash moved to Boston from Germany; AutoReturn came to us from San Francisco; and Crispr crossed the river from Cambridge.

Just last month, Toast—a $13 billion company—announced it would not only be staying in Boston—but keeping its corporate headquarters right here to our City, and in the Seaport. 

And, of course, we're all very excited that LEGO will be moving from Connecticut—where they’ve been for nearly 50 years—700 jobs coming to Boston in the heart of Back Bay.

These examples aren’t the exception, they’re the rule. 

In the first quarter of this year, more than 40% of all research lab space under construction in the country was being built right here in the Boston metro area, and we continue to lead the country in NIH funding.

The numbers speak for themselves: 

Boston has mounted one of the strongest recoveries in the nation. 

And that’s not an accident. 

A recovery like ours doesn’t just happen on its own, our resilience, our competitiveness, is cultivated, very intentionally and through a lot of hard work from people in this room and beyond. 

This is the product of a concerted effort to make Boston the best city in the country—for families, and for the businesses they depend on, work at, and run. 

It’s the product of programs like our S.P.A.C.E Grant, Legacy Business, and Cultural Investment Grant programs led by our Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion Segun Idowu and his team, who have distributed over $11 million in funding to more than 60 businesses across our city—from bars and restaurants and dance studios to barber shops and roller rinks.

And it’s a product of our broader investment strategy from City Hall, as well. 

We’ve committed over 200 million ARPA dollars—more than 40% of our total federal recovery funding—to building more housing to ensure that our residents—your workforce—can afford to be here and thrive.

And our recovery is, unquestionably, a product of the leadership in this room. 

All of you who—in collaboration with government, nonprofit, and philanthropic partners—recognize the value of investing in our communities and being present. 

I want to give a special thanks as I talk about everyone who’s helped us bring, and have a hugely successful, NAACP National Convention to Boston this past summer. 

In particular, folks like Jim, Bob Rivers, JD Chesloff, Brooke Thomson, Jay Ash, and many others here—helped us engage new partners even in the last few months and weeks before convention-goers arrived: 

M&T Bank, Citizens, LEGO, Putnam, so many others helped make this convention a huge success.

I’m also talking about Boston Scientific, Takeda, Sanofi, and all the others who joined many of those same sponsors to bring the National Association of Asian American Professionals’ National Leadership Convention here just a month later. 

I want to thank Fidelity, who hired 400 Boston residents to their team this year and launched their “Invest in My Education” program, pledging $250 million to help Black and brown students pay for college or certificate programs.

Eastern Bank created an “Equity Alliance for Business,” to provide women entrepreneurs, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community with specialized credit offerings and loans of up to $250,000 for their businesses.

Blue Cross Blue Shield, Boston Children’s, Point32 Health, the Mass. League of Community Health Centers, and the many others who joined the Boston Public Health Commission, formed the Health Equity Compact, and filed legislation to address deep disparities in health outcomes in Boston, and across our Commonwealth.

Our partners in higher education, who have reaffirmed their commitments to fostering diverse, inclusive learning environments in the wake of the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling. 

And Mass General Brigham and UMass Boston—who announced a $20 million investment, in July, to add 400 nurses to the workforce right here.

You all are the muscle behind the strides that we, as a city, have made since the pandemic. 

And over the course of this year, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with dozens of our CEOs—many of you here today—and heard a vigilant hopefulness about how far we’ve come…that you’re seeing good signs. 

You’re watching the state tax package, have an eye on the ballot initiatives.

 Housing and transportation continue to be challenges for your workforce—and for you. 

But you believe in this city—and care about it.

And so you’re here, investing in our communities, and eager to contribute to a Boston that doesn’t just bounce back to what it was, but pushes forward into all that we could be. 

So I want to say, thank you. For your partnership and your vision, your willingness to dig deeper into solutions and aim higher in our standards.

And I want to acknowledge that we, at the City, can—and will—be doing more. 

More to streamline processes, create predictability, and collaborate with all of you on creating new ways to drive sustainable growth. 

This summer, we announced a new office-to-residential conversion program that will offer up to 75% reductions in the standard residential property tax rate for up to 29 years. Chief Arthur Jemison and the BDPA are just getting started. And we’re excited to begin accepting applications for that program next month.

It’s not the solution that will revitalize our Downtown—but it’s one of several strategies that we’re deploying to ensure that Boston’s Downtown isn’t a neighborhood that empties out at the end of the workday. 

It’s also part of our broader commitment to thinking creatively about how the City can help advance sustainable development, create more housing, and serve as a co-investor in housing production at a time when financing that production is a real challenge.

Since our administration began in the fall of 2021, we’ve permitted nearly 7,000 units of housing—almost a third of which have been income-restricted. 

In January, we announced that the City would be giving away land to developers who would deliver maximum public benefits on City-owned parcels. 

Since then, we’ve released Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and begun working with developers to turn vacant lots, parking lots, and unused buildings into affordable housing, public and open spaces, and retail. 

Some of these parcels will be quite significant in the size and the capacity for density that’s available. These parcels will include Parcel 3 and the Boston Water and Sewer parking lots in Roxbury; as well as parking lots in Chinatown and Charlestown that are also close to public transit.

We’ve partnered with local banks represented in this room to launch a homeownership and downpayment assistance program that’s helped more than 300 families buy homes in Boston so far.

Thanks to the work of our Chief of Housing, Sheila Dillon, and our Chief of Planning, Arthur Jemison, and all of their teams—we approved nearly 900 new homes to be built in Boston just in the last month alone. 

And there’s a pipeline of over 23,000 more approved ready to be built. 

But, in large part because interest rates are the highest they’ve been in twenty years, we’re not seeing those approvals translate into shovels in the ground. 

We need city government to be as effective a partner as we can be, in this moment, and making sure that we’re continuing to build as many homes as possible. 

So I’ve spoken with business leaders, real estate developers, academics to better understand the tools that Boston could use to accelerate housing construction. 

We’ve consulted leading experts and economists to evaluate our options for targeted investment in housing production at a time when new home construction remains incredibly difficult to finance. 

And based on these conversations, we are strongly considering a time-limited tax incentive program for housing creation to sustain the momentum we need to see in our housing pipeline. In the months ahead, we will continue to sit down with stakeholders to analyze our options to get shovels in the ground faster, and finalize the parameters of a potential policy, and we invite your collaboration as we finalize and think through the pieces of this.

Another major way in which we’re removing barriers to growth and development is through modernizing our zoning code—which hasn’t had a comprehensive update in nearly 60 years. 

Later today, we’ll be releasing a report—authored by Cornell Professor and founder and director of the National Zoning Atlas, Sara Bronin—that confirms what we’ve all known here for a while now:

Our zoning code isn’t just outdated—it’s long, dense, and internally inconsistent in ways that make planning confusing, unpredictable, and costly. 

Under the current code, even minor changes to a home or business often require hiring a lawyer to navigate the nearly 4,000 pages of legalese, and building a new triple-decker in most neighborhoods requires a variance, even if they’re already lining the street. 

Our planners have been so bogged down with development review and rezoning that there’s been little time for them to engage in the thoughtful, long-term planning that our City needs and that they would like to move forward. 

So, today, we’re also announcing the restructuring of our Planning Department to kick off the long-overdue reform of our zoning code and give City planners the capacity to plan for Boston’s future with our communities.

To that end, we’re excited to be launching our Squares & Streets initiative: 

A citywide rezoning effort to create mixed-use hubs along our neighborhood main streets—close to transit, and with opportunities for more housing, retail, and civic spaces. 

We’ll kick off our community engagement process at the Dorchester Open Streets event this weekend and conduct outreach through the end of the year…

Sending our teams to businesses, concerts, farmers markets, and events across the neighborhoods to get input from all of our residents—not just those who are most able to show up at a public meeting.

The resulting plans will cut what has historically been a three-to-five year process of rezoning down to six-to-nine months, and make our planning overall more transparent, collaborative, and predictable.

And, because we believe that our youngest residents should be the focus, and they deserve the highest quality of opportunities—we know that raising a family shouldn’t be a disqualifier for building a career.

And so, Chief Jemison and the BPDA have also been working very closely with Kristin McSwain, Director of our Office of Early Childhood, to propose a set of amendments to the Zoning Code that will make it easier to create child care facilities throughout our city. 

These amendments will make childcare facilities “as-of-right” in every neighborhood, bringing day care centers and family day care homes to communities where no options currently exist. 

For working families, it is hard to overstate the impact of these changes. 

More, high-quality, affordable childcare options; shorter commute times; and more opportunities for working parents.

I also want to take this opportunity to share two additional examples that show how we are working and how we’re thinking about streamlining processes and eliminating bureaucracy as a barrier to responsible development. 

First is our Inclusionary Development Policy, and the second will be about the Inspectional Services Department. 


For developers, filling those affordable units can be time- and cost-intensive. 

And for residents who need housing, the existing lottery system is basically a black box—you hear nothing for months and then, suddenly, you’re notified that you have five days to get all your paperwork together in your life to be considered. 

In the middle of our housing crisis, this means that some affordable units stay vacant for months, even after the rest of the building is occupied.

We’re changing that. 

When a unit has been built and is ready to be filled, we will have a renter or buyer ready to move in on day one. 

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be doing away with the application request forms for prospective residents—no more filling out forms just to request to fill out more forms. We’ll also be updating our website to include a list where prospective residents can see their exact position in line for available housing. 

For developers, we’re cutting our current 68-page marketing and tenant selection plan down to a five-page form. 

And the City will be taking a more proactive role in spreading the word about available units. 

Instead of requiring developers to spend 16 hours near the development site handing out flyers, we will host information sessions across our neighborhoods, and take on the advertising requirements that previously fell to developers. 

Together, these changes mean fewer hurdles for developers and more clarity—and quicker connections to much-needed housing—for the residents in our communities.

Now ISD:

We will be hiring a new Intake Supervisor position and reinstituting our fast-track permitting program once that position is filled.

Before that program was discontinued during the pandemic, fast-track-eligible projects would get stuck into a plan examiner’s pile with all of their other obligations. 

So, while some projects were eligible for fast-tracking, it often didn’t matter because they’d sit in that pile on someone’s desk for weeks.

This time around, we will not only have plan examiners rotate on taking fast-track shifts to ensure these projects get the individualized attention and expedited approvals they need…

We’ll also be running building code reviews and fire prevention code reviews simultaneously to prevent either one from becoming the bottleneck. 

As a result, building permits for office renovations that currently take up to four weeks will now take no more than seven days—and as little as 20 minutes. 

Finally, I want to close with some thoughts on an issue that is foundational to the success and wellbeing of any city—one that I know has been on our minds and especially as we’re thinking about the nationwide landscape for recovery: Public safety. First and foremost, I want to make clear that, here—as in so many other areas—Boston stands out among our peers.

If you look at the national data for the last full year available—2022—Boston had the fewest reported incidents in almost any category, including loss of life and homicides. Many of the cities that are our same size or are considered in the same categories are dealing with the trauma and impact of almost ten times greater the scale.

And it’s not just that we are seeing the numbers lower than other cities in this moment. Boston has been seeing this kind of trend in our own city for decades. 

Violent crime is down nearly 10% compared to our five-year-average; it was down 11% this summer. We’ve had the lowest number of shootings in more than ten years, and this year, shootings have declined by 17% so far.

I want to thank Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox for his day-to-day leadership and the understanding I’ve gotten of the work that he does. 

But I also want to emphasize here that every time we speak about public safety—when we look at the news, when we see that other people have been impacted, when we see the numbers and put them up on boards and rankings—these are not only real lives and whole families and communities who are forever impacted…

But as the numbers reset every year, the trauma, and the grief, and the continued impact continues on in our City for our families. 

And so, we need to all do more in ensuring that we can provide the resources and the infrastructure for trauma supports, for that holistic approach. 

There is someone in this room who I’d like to highlight, who has been doing this, in name, as a nonprofit leader for a long time…but she is basically part of the infrastructure of City Hall and city government, and has been for decades. 

Chaplain Clementina Chery. 

So many of you all are already involved in the work of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, or you might have heard of or attended the annual Mother’s Day Walks for Peace—that is an incredible effort and mobilizing force that happens every year because of Chaplain Chery and her team. 

What I want to emphasize today is that all of the years that she and her team have been doing this work, in providing nation-leading guides and protocols; and working with our hospitals; and providing educational curriculum in our schools; is to really focus not just on ending harm and moving on, but really getting at the roots of peace and healing. 

She is embarking on a huge endeavor that the City of Boston is going to be there every step of the way for—to build, for once, the building and facilities that the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute deserves. 

They’re kicking off a capital campaign, so please—she’s wearing bright red today; I hope everyone goes and sees her afterwards. 

25 million dollars we got to get to, to make sure that our survivors and families and cities finally have what they need.

But for those of us who care about creating long-term, lasting safety in our communities, we know that getting there means following a set of collaborations that has made our economic recovery as successful as it’s been:

Working to mobilize the incredible resources that already exist in our city, and then to invest in our people.

Commissioner Cox and the department and all of their partners—across every part of city government, and the Boston Public Health Commission, and our first responders, BCYF, and schools—they’ve taken this approach to community safety holistically.

And this is also how we are taking and planning our approach to the crisis of homelessness, substance use, and mental health at Mass Ave and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

Since January of last year, hundreds of people who have needed services have received those services and moved on to life-changing new journeys in the low-threshold housing sites—wrapped with medical care—that we have created (the first ever in Boston). 

And now the State is creating more in six other cities modeled after our work. 

More than 160 people in just this time have not only reached that first step in their recovery, but stabilized transition, gotten job search supports, housing counseling, and are now living in permanent, stable housing.

But as more people from across the region have arrived at Atkinson Street, Southampton, and everywhere around the Newmarket Triangle, it’s become clear that a compassionate, comprehensive, long-term solution requires rebuilding the Long Island Bridge and public health campus.

It also means addressing, head on, the individuals who see the area as a place to exploit those who are struggling with mental health and addiction. 

That’s why, late last month, we initiated a phase change for the Mass and Cass area and the City. 

We filed an ordinance with the Boston City Council to interrupt the violence and criminal activity enabled by tarps and tents—which, currently, the protocols require an extended period of time before Boston Police and our health outreach providers can address. 

We need to have that capacity to move immediately, to provide more safe, stable low-threshold housing; and coordinated implementation to return the streets in that area to their original purpose.

Restoring Atkinson, Southampton, and the roads in the surrounding area to standard, functioning roadways, will unlock the potential for more effective outreach and services all across the city—and it gives us the opportunity to lean into the untapped possibilities of this neighborhood as a thriving part of our growing city that can create more jobs right there for the individuals who are needing those supports. 

Imagine if “Mass and Cass” as a term was, instead, synonymous with Boston’s newest climate tech district—home to the country’s largest and fastest-growing collection of green jobs. 

Imagine if the individuals who needed services were connected directly—and our City teams, from BPD, BPHC, and our partners in community, could have the supports to do these jobs safely.

Because safety and opportunity are directly connected, we’re tying together all of this with our planning. 

So, our recently released plan by the BPDA focusing on Newmarket begins to take us in that direction as we pair these efforts around public health and public safety. 

And because safety and opportunity are directly connected, I want to reinforce that every opportunity we create for industry should also be an opportunity for our future workforce right here in Boston.

This summer we had aimed to double the number of City-sponsored summer jobs to 7,000 for our young people.

Thanks to leadership from our Chief of Worker Empowerment, Trinh Nguyen, Senior Labor Advisor, Lou Mandarini—and the partnership of Neil Sullivan and the Private Industry Council, and many of the companies in this room—we not only met that 7,000 summer jobs high mark, but actually pushed to more than 9,000 high school students! 

One small example—just one person—Cindy Alfaro Martinez is a student at East Boston High School, and she spent her summer in the CEO’s Office at Vertex as an intern for Reshma. 

And if you’re thinking,  “That sounds like the kind of opportunity that could change a student’s life!” You are right. It’s exactly the kind of opportunity we want to create for every single one of our Boston Public Schools students. 

So, the ask, as predicted, is for all of you to start thinking now about what your organizations can offer for summer of 2024. 

We are going to get well past the 10,000 mark next summer!

And I want to acknowledge and thank Jim and the Chamber for their work—directly with Superintendent Mary Skipper—to analyze, and assess, and soon to be finalizing and putting forward ways for employers to more efficiently and effectively collaborate with our schools and engage with our students. 

And, also, Jim—wearing many hats as usual—helping lead the charge as co-chair on our Madison Park Vocational Technical High School Steering Committee for new programs, career pathways, and partnerships with what will be a nation-leading vocational technical school on an expanded campus in the heart of Roxbury to produce the next generation of our leaders and workers.

All of what I’ve discussed, and all of what we will talk about in a little bit, are not small goals. 

We won’t achieve them overnight. 

But our administration isn’t interested in quick fixes or cosmetic solutions that will then just go away after the cameras disappear. 

The challenges that matter most for our city—for our communities, our families—are longstanding and complex. And they deserve lasting solutions.

These solutions will require creativity, and collaboration, and demand that we’re not satisfied with just returning to the way things were—but pulling all of us forward into what we could be. 

As we set our sights on that future together, I am so grateful to know that we can count on every person in this room, and all of the leadership that you and your organizations represent. Thank you.

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