I’ve worked on public policy from a variety of standpoints: as a staffer on Capitol Hill, as an advocate and as a business leader. And far too often, our well-intentioned efforts to implement high-impact policies fall short because the structures for developing them – from committees, to budgets, to the niche focus areas of advocacy organizations – are so siloed by issue area that they fail to reflect the realities of how these issues impact our communities. The problem is, we don’t live that way and our economy doesn’t work that way.
As we emerge from a pandemic and look to elect a new governor this fall, Massachusetts must adopt a holistic approach to the addressing the issues – housing, transportation, climate and the workplace – that most impact our people and economy. Interconnected crises require integrated solutions – ones that recognize the intimate connections between policies and people.
Take affordable housing as an example – a key issue essential to making Massachusetts a place where people can thrive. Despite the promises of remote work, most people still need to get to their job. Public transit must therefore be close to housing and accessible for the communities and workers who most need it. As we expand public transportation, connecting people to their destinations with climate-friendly, low-carbon transit options must be a priority as we meet the climate crisis. And to ensure employment opportunities in this challenging environment are attractive to the shrinking workforce, we need policies like a robust minimum wage, equal pay, paid family and medical leave.
Center Access to Opportunity
Going forward, to meet the challenges of our time and position our economy for long-term success, it is essential that we build policy rooted in the understanding that opportunity and access are interconnected. All our residents deserve access to opportunities and a high quality of life: to a good-paying job, affordable housing and a livable environment, and our policy approach must center that. We need to employ multiple lenses and be especially attentive to low-income communities and communities of color where government policy has historically caused harm and failed to deliver equitable opportunities.
The business community can – and should – use its influence and resources to advocate for this kind of holistic policymaking. As the COVID pandemic so clearly demonstrated, the health of our workers and strength of our economy is so intricately tied to housing, transportation and climate. We have both a practical interest and a moral imperative to invest in development of thoughtful and de-siloed approaches to policy.
How can we expect to attract and retain workers if those workers can’t afford housing? If they can’t get to work? If that work doesn’t treat them fairly? If the climate crisis upends daily life?
Setting the economy up for success will require focusing on these quality-of-life issues as we pursue other systemic changes that support fair economic growth. Massachusetts just passed a far-reaching and first-in-the nation series of offshore wind and renewable energy bills. This -investment will not only work to decarbonize our energy sources, but kick-start an incredible green energy economy. But that doesn’t just happen.
Success Takes Intention
We need to align education, workforce development and regional economic development policies to ensure all regions of Massachusetts benefit from this economic growth. Our universities, community colleges, labor unions and vocational schools will be training a diverse generation of workers, while the state looks for opportunities to support manufacturing throughout the commonwealth and redevelops ports on the coast. We’ll need to develop housing and transportation for students and workers in all these areas, not just Boston, to create our next generation economy. These efforts need to work in unison to match supply and demand.
Whoever wins the governor’s race later this year, the business community must push them to rethink housing, transportation, climate and workplace policies and partner with them to do so. We need to build on the momentum we’re seeing – from multifamily zoning and fare-free public transit pilot programs to community choice electricity and increases in the minimum wage – to connect these seemingly disparate issues as we work to enrich the lives of all Massachusetts residents.
Generating economic growth is like running a grassroots campaign – something our candidates can relate to – it happens in every community, neighborhood and family, and builds from the ground up. It is our collective responsibility to support policies that build infrastructure, trains, schools and programs, to allow opportunity to take hold. It is our job as business leaders to build out those opportunities into economic realities.
By adopting an integrated, equitable approach to policymaking in Massachusetts, we can build a place where all people, communities and businesses prosper.
David Gasson is cofounder of MG Housing Strategies and chair of the Board of the Alliance for Business Leadership.