Boston Fed Bosses: Mid-Sized Cities Face Unique Challenges

Originally published in the Worcester Business Journal

July 13, 2011
Matt Pilion (Staff Writer, Worcester Business Journal)

New England's former industrial cities like Worcester, Springfield and Hartford face intense challenges as the economy continues a weak recovery, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston said today in Worcester.
Eric S. Rosengren, CEO and president of the bank, told a roomful of business, education and nonprofit leaders that New England's "mid-sized" cities are, on average, younger, less advanced in education and more diverse than the rest of the region.
Those characteristics present both challenges and opportunities, he said.
While unemployment is much higher among the undereducated, the large population of younger residents in New England's cities could help redefine the economic identities of those hubs.
Hospitals and colleges have started to redefine those identities, and Rosengren said that more focus is needed on steering young populations toward the "meds and eds" that employ significant chunks of the population in many of the cities.
"Those are people that are presumably going to be more willing to go into new industries, to try new things," Rosengren said.
He called for more collaboration between government, education, sciences and business to make sure the future workforce is educated to step into those job sectors.
Rosengren also offered his take on the economic recovery, which he said has been slow nationally and in New England, though this region is generally faring better than the rest of the country, with lower unemployment.
Rather than calling the first half of this year an economic "slow patch," Rosengren said that he would characterize it as a "consistently weak recovery interrupted by a period of strong growth."
Rosengren spoke at an event organized by the bank, as well as the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise, MassINC and the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. It was held at Clark University.
Yolanda Kodrzycki, vice president and director of the bank's New England Public Policy Center, presented a comparison of 25 "resurgent cities" around the country that have improved their economic standing since the manufacturing heyday of the 1960s.
She said that the cities that have performed better have had strong collaboration and leadership among various groups, have redirected their respective economies toward new industries and have developed their human capital.
"They show us that it takes patience and determination," Kodrzycki said.
She also urged collaboration between workforce programs, business groups and schools and colleges.
"You need someone who is looking out for the whole," she said, "not just at business issues."