As a Boston Business Journal panel Thursday pondered Boston’s message to the rest of the world, Chancellor J. Keith Motley said Boston’s 150,000 “developing brains,” enrolled at more than 55 colleges in and around the city, are envied around the globe.
“This is what Boston’s about,” Motley said. “Organizations like GE and those that are here, they sort of get it. They know that the opportunity to develop all that they have in their business portfolio … that you find it in Boston.”
Motley joined John Barros, economic development chief for the City of Boston, and Peter Palandjian, chairman and CEO of Intercontinental Real Estate, for the discussion moderated by Patrick Sullivan, Massachusetts president of People’s United Bank. More than 100 area leaders from higher education, business, technology, and other sectors sat in on the panel at Boston Harbor Hotel.
Barros, who was credited for helping to bring General Electric to Boston, showcased Boston’s strengths by relaying the desire of GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt to relocate to a “forward-looking ecosystem.” He said Boston didn’t put up the highest offer to make the Seaport GE’s future home, but the city’s many assets, from its numerous universities to its business leadership, made Boston’s deal the winner.
Palandjian credited Boston’s diverse institutions, including its colleges and its internationally renowned hospitals, for enabling the city to bounce back from the challenges it faced over the past several decades.
“As a real estate investor … this is exactly what we look for in markets: It is in multiple drivers, intelligent communities where people graduate and stay and create the Kindle, or Twitter, or Facebook, etc. or a cystic fibrosis cure,” Palandjian said.
But while the panel celebrated Boston’s advantages, it also focused on improvements needed in the future.
“We are doing well, but the real story is how do we make that a story for the entire city?” Barros said, pointing to the Brookings Institute report that recently determined Boston is at the top of the list of cities exhibiting the highest levels of income inequality.
Palandjian said the housing situation in Boston is “really scary,” calculating the high building costs that drive up housing costs to the point of inaccessibility.
“How are going to support that, as this great economic engine is really picking up, and all these jobs are coming in?” Palandjian said. “What I want to get to and maybe we could move to is transportation and transit lines, because people can’t live here. They can’t afford to live here.”
Barros echoed those concerns, pointing to the city’s efforts to build more affordable housing and to universities helping to eliminate some of the pressure through residence halls.
Motley recalled UMass Boston’s founding and its earlier casting as a commuter institution to demonstrate how much the Columbia Point peninsula has grown in 50 years.
“We’re building on our campuses,” Motley said. “We’re proud that we have within proximity to the campus, apartments that our students live in and can have a residential life experience. While we’ve proud of that, this mayor, this city, this governor, and others have been advocates for us to now become more than a commuter institution that will build residence halls that allow for this next generation of learners to be able to experience what it’s like to be in this vibrant city 24 hours a day, 365 days, seven days a week.”