One of the state’s leading businessmen said on Tuesday that economic growth in Massachusetts will not be possible unless the population starts growing and income inequality is addressed.
John Fish, president and chief executive of Suffolk Construction and a member of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a group of 16 of the state’s most powerful CEOs, said for too long the state has focused on high-paying, new-economy jobs primarily in the Boston area.
“The result has been limited growth throughout the rest of the commonwealth and the middle class has been thrown aside,” Fish said. “We are fast becoming known as the un-commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Fish praised the Patrick administration and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (where he serves on the board) for beginning to place a greater emphasis on areas outside of Boston and regional economic equity. He said he favored increased state investments in transportation and education, calling specifically for construction of a South Coast rail link between Boston and Fall River and New Bedford and an upgrade of commuter rail service to Worcester and an extension of commuter rail to Springfield. He said he also favored a longer school day and an 11-month school year.
At the national level, he said immigration reform is needed, although he didn’t go into specifics. He suggested new immigrants would be one way to increase the population, which he linked directly to consumer demand and economic growth. “If we can’t grow our population, it makes it almost impossible to grow our economy,” he said.
The construction executive spoke at a luncheon honoring innovators in housing and economic development in the state’s 26 Gateway Cities, small to mid-size urban centers across Massachuetts that have been struggling economically. The luncheon was held at the University of Massachusetts Boston and hosted by the MassINC Gateway Cities Innovation Institute. MassINC is the publisher of CommonWealth magazine.
Fish warned that the state is now facing one of the greatest economic challenges of modern times with its middle class hollowed out and a growing divide between haves and have-nots. He rattled off a series of statistics to buttress his point. He said there has been zero job growth outside Route 128 for the past 25 years. He said the median household income in Worcester is 20 percent less than the median for the entire state. He said the top 1 percent of the population holds 40 percent of the wealth, while the bottom 80 percent holds 7 percent.
“I would argue the American Dream is in trouble,” Fish said.