What’s Holding The Mass Tech Economy Back?

The Massachusetts tech industry typically does not bother itself too much with discussions about policy. The one exception came in 2013 when technology leaders rallied for a revision of a new tax policy that would impact cloud services companies. The groundswell led to the rapid removal of the “tech tax,” as it was called. Many policy wonks and elected officials were surprised by the response, and implored the tech industry to speak up on policy more often.

A new report from the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MTLC) released last week provides a blueprint of policies that need urgent attention from the tech industry to help to continue its growth in the state. For tech companies, their leaders, marketers and PR pros, the message is simple: Your insight into these policies will inform the discussion and establish thought leadership that would benefit the entire industry.

Considered together, the reports, “State of the Tech Economy” and “Tech Pulse Business Confidence,” paint a vibrant picture for the current technology industry in Massachusetts, but they point to challenges that need to be addressed to enable continued tech industry growth.

According to the reports, the tech industry underpins roughly a third of all jobs in the state, when one considers not only those employed by tech firms but the organizations that support those firms. Seventy-two percent of tech companies surveyed plan to expand in Massachusetts in 2020. 

In its short time in Boston, Highwire PR has supported this growth while benefiting from it. Our Back Bay, Boston office represents innovative companies across cybersecurity, digital health and internet infrastructure. We offer them a unique approach to high-tech PR that leverages our deep relationships with influencers, our understanding of our clients’ markets, and our creativity. 

Here’s the problem for Highwire and the rest of the tech industry in the Boston area. The unemployment rate in Massachusetts is 2.84%, which means it’s hard to find talent. And while the state is blessed with numerous, world-renowned universities and colleges, many graduates are weighing the state’s high cost of housing and transportation issues when making career decisions. 

On the positive side, the transportation challenges the state faces are evidence that people want to live, work and play here.

“Detroit doesn’t have traffic jams,” summarized Mark Melnik, director of Economic and Public Policy Research at the UMASS Donahue Institute, which partnered with MTLC on one of the reports, during a presentation at the report release event. 

Transportation problems also mean employees can’t get to work. And those frustrations have led to conversations among Massachusetts policy makers and elected officials to address the issue.

Housing costs are another policy challenge affecting tech industry growth. According to Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, Mike Kennealy, who also presented at the report release event, Massachusetts boasts the highest rents in the country. 

“We like to be No. 1 in a lot of things, but we do not want to be No. 1 in rent,” Kennealy said. 

Melnik noted that it’s impossible for young talented professionals to save for a mortgage down payment when rents are so high. Kennealy explained that the problem is housing supply. Like transportation, this is an issue that is of high interest to elected officials and members of Governor Baker’s administration.

As was the case with the tech tax, policy makers want to hear from the private sector, and they would love to cooperate with business leaders to develop policies that will continue to support industry. 

From a PR perspective, there is enormous opportunity to speak to these key issues, and the impact they are having on growth. What are challenges tech employees are seeing, how are they addressing them day-to-day, and what would be most helpful to alleviate them? We ask these questions of our clients to develop storylines of interest to local media. We closely liaise with local influencer groups (such as MTLC) to earn opportunities for clients to speak about them.

While the tech industry in Massachusetts has historically been quiet on matters of policy, speaking up positions organizations as the true business drivers that they are, according to the MTLC report.

If you want to learn more about how Highwire is helping its clients lead strategic industry discussions, reach out to us: hi@highwirepr.com.

How to Experience The Energy of The Vibrant New England Tech Economy

This month’s Mass Technology Leadership Council (MTLC) event felt different. The group unveiled the finalists for the 2019 Technology Leadership Awards, and to be sure, the setting was similar to previous events of its type– a fantastically brilliant new office space in Boston’s transformed seaport (in this case at PTC’s new HQ). The food was similar– passed hors d’oeuvres including a quite tasty vegetarian Lo Mein. The speakers were familiar– including the emcee, MTLC’s president Tom Hopcroft. But it felt different. 

Mass Technology Leadership Council President & CEO Tom Hopcroft announces the sponsors for the association’s annual awards program during an event at PTC headquarters in Boston on September 10, 2019.

Typically these events do have a fair amount of energy. The room fills with entrepreneurs who are running on adrenaline and have typically spent an inordinate amount of time building their ideas. Or there are the networkers—those looking to land a gig with the next big thing. Or people like me in Boston technology PR, interested to see what’s emerging on the tech landscape (and whether their clients made the finalist list. Hint: They did, and congrats to Akamai and Markforged for being named in multiple categories!).

But this year, the excitement had a

different quality.

One area of personal fascination for me of late has been how we are all responding to the new world of distrust we live in. It wasn’t that long ago, that a few hot tech brands were poised to save the world. Today many consumers just hope they can protect their data, or not share it with reckless abandon. 

As a result, I think we kind of like seeing one another. For my clients, reporters are much more willing now to meet people. Sure—there’s always been the quick check in during industry events, but today, reporters and influencers are taking meetings in their offices, at coffee shops… even after work at restaurants. I have no evidence to prove this, but I think it’s because it makes a big difference to look at someone in the eye.

It could also be a renewed interest in people and their personalities. Not sure if you have heard, but even PR is going through a digital transformation. And it’s kind of cool. Highwire is offering new services, such as content and influencer marketing. We’re leveraging technology so that our understanding of clients and markets can impact marketing in other ways. And we’re harvesting data based on our work to see how it correlates to the rest of marketing.

But amidst all things digital, we are all still human. We all still want to interact with other individuals. It’s our personalities that make us interesting, right?

And it takes a whole bunch of different personalities to create an innovation economy. That fact was on display at the MTLC event. Presenters announcing the award finalists included leaders from tech companies, from organizations supporting them, and even from non-tech vendors (including an insurance broker). The New England tech economy is vibrant. The MTLC awards program includes categories for manufacturing, healthcare, education, finance and insurance, robotics, sales and marketing, and security.

Seeing how the industry has a profound impact on so many, and supports so much ideation in the region, is pretty mesmerizing.

Dare I say, the energy one draws from it is invigorating. In this rapidly digitized world we all live in, such moments are significant to the work we do.