High-Lights: Our Tech PR POV

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.