By Erin Sandler-Rathe
Middlesex 3 Coalition held its final event for the year on December 6 at the new DCU Operations Center in Chelmsford. DCU co-hosted the event with ahp Architects.
Judy Burke, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement at Middlesex Community College, moderated a panel discussion on the economic outlook for the region in 2019. On the panel were Dr. Mark Melnik, Director of Economic & Public Policy Research at the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute; Peter Milano, Senior Business Development Director, Massachusetts Office of Business Development; Peter Farkas, Executive Director for the MassHIRE Greater Lowell Workforce Board; and Dr. Scott Latham, an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
The panelists outlined the state of the current workforce, noting Massachusetts’ low unemployment rate and strong growth in the industries of health care, manufacturing, and professional and technical services. Key indicators of strength they mentioned included high rates of education and population growth for the Greater Boston Area. Dr. Melnik in particular, however, stressed that the robust economy is not evenly developed across the state, with Western Massachusetts and the Cape reporting much lower growth and success. Milano addressed that concern by noting that his office actively recruits and incentivizes businesses to locate outside of Boston and Cambridge.
Housing availability and the high cost of living were among the challenges the panelists cited as potentially negative factors looking to the future. Milano noted that Massachusetts is a net exporter of talent in the workforce because our educated workforce can find similar jobs with similar compensation in other parts of the country where they benefit from a lower cost of living.
While the current economy appears robust, Dr. Latham cautioned that it is likely to slow over the next year. The panel identified as imminent challenges for the state our aging population, retention of talent, and the need to upgrade infrastructure. Uncertainty at the federal level will also play a role since 94% of Massachusetts’ population growth since 2010 has come from international citizens. Employers in the region cannot feel certain that this pool of workers will continue to be an available resource.
The Middlesex 3 Coalition will resume its events and speaker series in January. Middlesex 3 is a partnership across nine towns surrounding the Middlesex Turnpike and Rte. 3 corridor, with members from business, education, community organizations, and town governments. In attendance from Bedford were Jim Sullivan of DSA Printing, representing the Bedford Chamber of Commerce; Tony Fields, Planning Director for the Town of Bedford; and Alyssa Sandoval, Bedford’s Economic Development Coordinator.