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Innovation District – Please Stay in Boston

Forum addresses retaining workers in Mass.

June 08, 2011|By Katie Johnston Chase, Globe Staff

Business and political leaders last night tackled one of the major concerns facing employers and the state economy: Getting workers to move to Massachusetts and stay here.

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After dispensing with the issues largely out of employers’ control — cold winters, high living costs, limited hours of public transportation — Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and others turned to making the state more attractive to skilled workers on which the state’s innovation economy depends.

They suggested creating more places and events for people to collaborate, promoting a more welcoming attitude, and focusing on younger, so-called Generation Y workers.

“Our natural resource is talent,’’ said Patrick. “It’s intellectual capacity.’’

Patrick, Menino, and business leaders from several industries addressed a packed house at the Paramount Center in Downtown Crossing as The Boston Globe kicked off the first in a series called “Building a Better Commonwealth,’’ discussions aimed at making Massachusetts a more desirable place to live and work. Last night’s forum was titled “Cultivating Talent.’’

Attracting and retaining workers has long been a concern of employers here. Over the past 20 years, more people have left the state than have moved here from other states.

Promoting the state as a place where different industries work together is key to reversing that trend, said Menino, pointing to the Innovation District on Boston’s waterfront as an example.

Both Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., the Cambridge company that recently won federal approval for a hepatitis C drug, and Babson College, which specializes in entrepreneurial programs, are moving into the district.

Babson, located in Wellesley, plans to establish a satellite campus.

“We have to make Boston and the Commonwealth a great place for people to collaborate, Menino said.

Holding onto Generation Y workers, who tend to be well educated and technologically savvy, was a particular focus of the forum.

Nearly half of the approximately 250,000 students who attend the state’s private colleges and universities each year leave after they graduate.

Creating more internships and mentoring opportunities will make them more likely to stay, said Diane Hessan, president of Communispace, a Watertown social networking company.

And that moment can be as simple as making newcomers feel welcome — something Bostonians aren’t known for.

“In the Midwest, when you’re new, everyone brings a pie,’’ Patrick said. “Here, when you’re new, you are expected to bring a pie.’’

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase@globe.com.

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