By Steve Urbon
Standard-Times Senior Correspondent
New Bedford and Brockton may have missed much of the wave of high-tech jobs in the past decade or two, but a new study finds the two cities also avoided a decade-long drain in high-tech jobs that afflicted every other metro area in Massachusetts.
The report, “Mass Jobs: Meeting the Challenges of a Shifting Economy,” surveys the landscape and finds Massachusetts ranks 49th in job creation among the 50 states (Connecticut is 50th), and that it struggles to match jobs with the best-educated work force. The result is out-migration as frustrated, well-educated people continue to go elsewhere.
The challenge now is to employ everyone, including former manufacturing workers, in an economy built around specialized jobs in “boutique” employers, said MassINC, the nonprofit think tank that sponsored the study.
Overall, Massachusetts is down 100,000 jobs from its peak in 2001, and the shrinking high-tech sector carries much of the blame, says the report. This state was more invested in it and had more to lose when high technology started shrinking.
Not only that, but increased competition from such states as Florida and North Carolina meant that Massachusetts now has a smaller share of the high-tech jobs that remain.
It is the same across the board, with Massachusetts essentially flat while 31 million jobs were added nationwide since the 1980s. The Bay State is losing its share of many job sectors, said the report.
“The job loss has been so great that it wiped out the gains in sectors where we added jobs. For the first time, Massachusetts added no net jobs over an entire decade,” said MasssINC Executive Vice President John Schneider.
North Andover took the worst beating, losing 27 percent of its payroll jobs in one event, the closing of Lucent Technologies. “Downsizing, restructuring, outsourcing and other factors” eroded the high-tech sector everywhere else.
New Bedford, meanwhile, actually added 415 jobs in the five years ending in 2006, defying the statewide trend of overall job loss. SouthCoast had ups and downs, with Rochester, Acushnet and Fairhaven dropping, and Dartmouth and Wareham growing — sometimes with jobs transplanted from businesses in other towns, such as Titleist.
Freetown was the big winner, adding 1,517 jobs, a growth of 72 percent, mostly at the enormous new Stop & Shop distribution facility. Percentage-wise, it led the state.
Andrew Sum, of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies and the author of the report, said, “the high levels of out-migration are strongly linked to poor performance in job creation.”
It’s not as though Bay Staters are uneducated; they have the highest achievement levels in the nation. But 90,000 jobs are open today because people aren’t being matched to the needs, the report found.
The net result: there are 286,000 fewer people in the state than in 2001. Only New York and Louisiana, which suffered from Hurricane Katrina, lost more people in that time period, said the report.
Create the jobs and out-migration will slow or even stop, as it has done before, said Dr. Sum. “In order to solve one you’ve got to solve the other.”
What will solve it? MassINC suggests biotechnology and related manufacturing jobs, which are already on the increase faster here than anywhere else in the nation, but which will probably not account for any more than a single-digit percentage of the overall job picture.
Something else is needed to recover from the drop in manufacturing jobs, which accounted for 24 percent of all Bay State jobs in 1983 and 9 percent now.
One possibility is training people to fill the many jobs open in the health-care field, including nursing.
But MassINC puts its bets on “boutique economy” jobs that create goods and services for export to other states or other countries. These jobs, for the most part, will be filled by people with specialized skills, said the report.
So far, said the authors, the state hasn’t found a way to coordinate its economic development strategy, or even to support the regional strategies developed by planning organizations such as the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District.
Dana Ansel, MassINC’s director of research, asked about the effect of casinos on the jobs picture, deflected the question as being too far-reaching in its spillover effects to be understood in the context of the new study.
The report’s other findings:
* From 2001 to 2006, Massachusetts lost about 3.6 percent of all jobs.
* Big cities lost a bigger share, an average of 6.6 percent, with Brockton and New Bedford alone gaining jobs.
* Eight counties lost jobs; those that gained were Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket in the southeast, and Berkshire and Hampshire in the west.
* The counties with the most jobs to lose suffered the greatest rate of loss: Middlesex dropped 7.4 percent and Suffolk dropped 6.6 percent.
On the Web: www.massinc.org Contact Steve Urbon at firstname.lastname@example.org
November 28, 2007
By Steve Urbon