October 13, 2015

On Saturday the Boston Globe reported in Little Diversity on Baker Panel that Governor Charlie Baker had appointed an economic development council top heavy with white males. The governor took a good bashing for the lack of diversity but really, shouldn’t he have taken a bashing for appointing a panel that won’t optimize how we think about economic development?

The two topics – diversity and economic development – are related. For example, in a 2012 report for UMass Boston’s Institute for Asian Studies by Professor Alan Clayton-Matthews and my UMB Political Science colleague Paul Watanabe, the authors outlined some intriguing facts about Massachusetts’ immigrant population. It might not surprise some readers to hear that recent immigrants are likely to be less educated than natives, but immigrants are also more highly educated than natives. Among recent immigrants, 19.2 percent have masters degrees compared with 16.2 percent of the native population. Of doctorates held by Massachusetts residents who are twenty-five or older, 34.6 percent are held by immigrants. But immigrants are only 18 percent of the overall population. Thus, immigrants have a “disproportionate share in the state’s science and technology sector.” Also, among doctorate holders aged 25-39, almost half (47.9 percent) are immigrants. Massachusetts’ economy depends on brains – where does the governor think the brains are coming from?

Clayton-Mathews and Watanabe also report that immigrant populations tend to be younger than native groups. So we better include these young ambitious new Bay Staters now because they are going to have to replace the baby boomers in the work force pretty soon.

In a separate report in 2009, Professor Watanabe studied economic development efforts in Boston’s Fields Corner neighborhood, where many businesses have been started by Vietnamese immigrants. About a third of those business are in food services but up to half are other services including many professionals: “lawyers, medical doctors, architects” with others in finance, insurance, and real estate.

Yes, as the Globe reports appointments like those to the economic development council are often ceremonial, a sort of sop to supporters. Why not make it more than that? We all want Massachusetts to grow and I’m sure we aging white guys want to do our part. But we have to make room for the engines of our growth, our brain power; and that means reaching out to immigrants.

immigrants, economic development council, Charlie Baker

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