Our most recent issue of the Mount Vernon Report included a piece about places in the U.S. that have earned the reputation as being a good place to do business. Our own Boston made one of these lists, but is challenged to compete with places like Austin or Silicon Valley to attract start-ups, which are more important than ever considering the jobs and economic stimulus they can bring in this time of uncertainty.
We’re all listening to the news today about Evergreen Solar, which begs all kinds of questions: Will Massachusetts recoup its investment? What are the company’s plans for turning things around? Ultimately, what was at the root of Evergreen’s demise?
NPR ran a pretty good segment on this story this morning. Basically, Massachusetts wasn’t the right place for the company to do business. Evergreen couldn’t produce its product cost-effectively enough in Massachusetts; if it stays in business, it will ultimately have to outsource production to a place like China.
In addition to the company’s own reputation, Evergreen Solar’s filing for bankruptcy also negatively impacts Massachusetts’ reputation as a place for start-ups to build their businesses.
15 years ago, Massachusetts was home to technology heavy hitters like Digital Equipment Corp. and Data General. In fact, according to a recent article by Globe writer Hiawatha Bray, Digital was launched with funding from one of the earliest venture capital firms, and “the company’s success established Boston as a haven for venture investors willing to invest in high-tech start-ups…Still, the Massachusetts high-tech sector has never fully recovered from the collapse of Digital and the state’s other leading computer companies.”
I spent a few years on the west coast, and moved back east because there was a long list of things I missed. Ten years after moving back, I’m still struck by the cultural differences. Much of Massachusetts’ culture is about tradition, which is a wonderful thing, and at the same time, the state’s biggest challenge. Tradition can be very restrictive; we’re slow to adopt change.
I have to think this pace extends into the government, businesses and beyond. We’re not moving fast enough. I don’t see solar panels on a lot of roofs, but they’re everywhere in other parts of the country. After years of debate and discussion, a windmill has just appeared on the Cape. People drive themselves to work instead of carpooling or taking the train. A quick survey of a small group of Massachusetts professionals reveals that when people “work remotely,” their bosses do not interact with them the same way, saving up things to talk with them about when they’re face-to-face (things that could easily have been taken care of virtually); so, many still don’t really believe in the virtual workforce, despite all of our connecting technologies.
We have an incredible knowledge base and skill pool due to the myriad of universities and colleges here, but our government and business leaders must open themselves to change, real change, if we are to compete. At the end of the day, it’s not just Evergreen’s reputation on the line.