Op-Ed by Rep. John Mahoney
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
March 14, 2018
I continue to be fascinated by how far the world has progressed over the past fifty years. Advances in technology have allowed us to have access to the world’s information at our fingertips, see and speak with relatives who are thousands of miles away, power our cars and homes without the thought of burning a single fossil fuel, and purchase items and have them delivered to our doorstep with the click of a button or the touch of a screen. Not to mention the incredible achievements in medicine which have strengthened, lengthened, and improved the lives of so many of our loved ones.
Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, had a prescient observation recently at the World Economic Forum: “The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.” In Massachusetts we have seen this rapid change first-hand, and we have an opportunity to lead and be at the forefront of our nation’s next innovation revolution.
A recent piece by Emily Badger in The New York Times highlighted how globalization has changed the very fabric of the American city. Industrial cities have been replaced by a knowledge based economy, which has disrupted industrial cities that were once the bedrock of America. Globalization has led to our most educated cities becoming powerhouse hubs of economic activity. Cities such as Boston, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco are connected now, more than ever, to international cities such as Beijing, London, Mumbai, and Tokyo. The question that should be on all of our minds is: “How does Worcester fit into all of this?”
I believe that Worcester is well positioned to take advantage of a global, knowledge based economy. Worcester has all the requisite building blocks of an economy that depends on the workforce and environment that is in demand. With world class universities such as WPI and UMass Medical School (we are home to nine colleges and universities in total), we continue to attract and churn out worldwide talent. During my recent trip to the city of Chengdu in China, I met a doctor who spent six months studying at UMass Medical School. Cities such as Chengdu are receiving the investment necessary to expand and emerge as an economic and medical techno center for China, and Worcester should not take its eye off the need for investing similarly in our infrastructure, health care, and education systems. This is especially true for our education systems, as our students must be provided with the best opportunity to succeed in this increasingly dynamic and competitive economy.
In her article, Badger suggests that cities such as Boston, New York, and San Francisco, will rely less on smaller cities and will continue to develop and strengthen existing relationships with other tech powered cities throughout the world. She also mentions that the economic benefits of global cities such as Boston do not appear to touch places more than 100 miles beyond their airports. Less than 50 miles away, Worcester has the unique benefit of being in close proximity to our bustling state capital. We now have non-stop express trains running from Worcester to Boston in under an hour, and this past year Massport and JetBlue announced that Worcester Regional Airport will have non-stop flights to JFK International Airport in New York City. These services strengthen our connection to the premier economic hubs of the world and allow Worcester to become a gateway and center for economic innovation and expansion. People from around the world are joining our workforce because we are positioning ourselves as leaders in the new economy, and as an added bonus our real estate and cost of living is far less expensive than surrounding cities.
This past year, Massachusetts was ranked the number one state for education, the healthiest state in the nation, and one of the best places to live in the nation. Worcester, which is geographically at the heart of the Commonwealth and is making a successful transition to a knowledge economy, has great global potential; across the world our colleges and universities attract students, our housing prices appeal to families, and our connection to economic hubs attract unparalleled investment.
We must continue to develop and strengthen our existing relationships with the cities that are driving this new economy. By fostering mutually beneficial relationships, our city stands to thrive and reap the benefits that so many other cities have managed to obtain. The time for change is now, and we must demand more from our local, statewide, and federal leaders than ever before; advocate and pressure them to acquire funding for expanded express transportation to and from Boston; request that we replace and reinvigorate aging infrastructure in order to attract businesses to lay their foundation in Worcester; insist that our schools be modernized so that families who decide to live and work in Worcester can be proud of the facilities they send their children to; and lastly, plead for increased access to affordable higher education so that we are well equipped for businesses that require an educated and trained workforce. Our city must be an attractive and accommodating place to live, so let’s invest in ourselves and push forward the above initiatives to connect and catapult Worcester to the next level.
Worcester should be proud of its journey from a smokestack manufacturing industrial center to an economy that has the capacity to be dynamic, innovative, and competitive in a global economy that will demand more from cities like Worcester than ever before. Worcester has made that journey successfully, and we will compete and win for our future once again.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette on March 14, 2018