By Joseph P. Kennedy III
Half a century ago, an Attleboro entrepreneur discovered that a common procedure used to give jewelry a durable sheen could be reversed to create the electrical contact needed for electronic test probes. Suddenly, from the roots of this city’s turn-of-the-century jewelry businesses came an industry-leading manufacturing process; one that is used by companies across the globe today, including Attleboro’s own Rika Denshi America, Inc.
The people of the 4th District have a tradition of innovation stretching back before the industrial revolution – from the jewelry makers of Attleboro, to the first mills of the Blackstone Valley, and the textile manufacturers of Fall River. Today, a new revolution in training and technology is needed so that innovation defines not just our past, but also our future.
Nearly 40 percent of the jobs in our state’s $400 billion economy revolve around innovation industries like health care, biotechnology, defense information, advanced manufacturing, and information technology. While overall employment statewide has fallen by 2.5 percent, the $33 billion biotech sector has increased employment 50 percent since 2001. Wherever new industry jobs arise, small business growth in other sectors such as construction, business services and retail soon follow.
The source of innovation employment across the Commonwealth comes as no surprise: our citizens, with their history of ingenuity and hard work. They are powering our state’s great institutions of higher education, our research hospitals, and our long history of pioneering products from the mutual fund to the minicomputer. Our challenge today is to make sure our people have the tools they need to grow our innovation economy outside of Boston and the Route 128 corridor and into areas like Attleboro, Taunton, and Fall River, which have incredible potential to host new outposts of growth.
Realizing that potential requires a combination of public and private efforts – a strategy of business and government working not as adversaries, but as partners, toward our economic future.
From Rika Denshi here in Attleboro to the Hopkinton-based data storage giant EMC, global companies have planted roots in the 4th District that the public sector can nourish. Their success requires access to the capital, infrastructure, and educated workforce that businesses need to hire and grow.
On the federal front, that means continuing to secure funding for research and development. Massachusetts receives more grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation – over $2 billion annually — than any state besides California. We also receive the highest proportion nationally of Small Business Innovation Research grants. But the growth of NIH funds has not kept pace with inflation. Strong leadership is needed in Washington to expand R&D accounts, which bring so many benefits to our national economy and to Massachusetts in particular.
Bringing a larger share of those funds to the 4th District depends on public investments like the SouthCoast Life Science and Technology Park at Fall River, which was funded in part through the $1 billion Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative.
It also means making permanent the federal R&D tax credit, which helps spur innovation.
State and regional efforts are critical in the area of education. According to recent figures, around 200,000 Massachusetts workers are unemployed at the same time that over 130,000 jobs go unfilled because they require skills the jobless do not possess.
Thousands of those jobs demand information technology training obtainable through no more than two years of community college – a sound investment that can pay off with a starting salary of $50,000. We need an aggressive campaign to align education and training at local institutions like Bristol Community College with targeted job opportunities. This would not only drive up employment but also encourage companies to locate new facilities in the 4th District to take advantage of the concentration of trained talent.
Communities like Attleboro, Plainville, Mansfield, and Taunton can serve as anchors for an educated, highly skilled workforce – places that are home to not just innovation and industry, but community and character. Housing, infrastructure and accessibility are all essential parts of encouraging a new generation to buy homes, raise families, and put their talent and education to work in the cities and towns they grew up in across the 4th District.
Our district is ripe with the ideas and the work ethic to lead the Commonwealth and the country into a 21st-century economy. Our businesses large and small understand that innovation is not an abstract goal, but a product of the fundamental values that have been the lifeblood of this district for centuries: resourcefulness, initiative, commitment and pride. Those values above all else will build and sustain our economic future.
Reprinted with permission from the Attleboro Sun Chronicle.