3rd District Day: The Massachusetts Economy

Ted Leonsis

Ted Leonsis – Mom and dad natives of Lowell but then moved to Brooklyn, NY. They all returned to Lowell when Ted was a junior in high school. They lived at 185 Trull Lane East. He was a C student at Lowell High. His guidance counselor, Beatrice Hoar, once told his parents that he was not college material and that he should go into one of the trades. He started college at Lowell State Teachers College. He worked as a volunteer on Paul Tsongas’s congressional campaign. When Tsongas one, Ted transferred to Georgetown and spent three years as an intern in Tsongas’s DC office.
Today, he said he is part of Washington but also tries to stay apart from Washington. He’s part of a group of corporate leaders who value “the double bottom line.” By that, he meant a company can do really well by doing good. He learned that when working at Wang. He said Wang was the first populist technology company. Its mission was to liberate women from typing and filing. That was the higher calling of Wang.

In 1978, Ted was at a trade show for Wang and met Steve Jobs. As a result of that encounter he bought his first personal computer. He then mentioned the day the Wang Writer was launched. It was also the day John Lennon was killed which made for a marketing challenge.

Another movement Ted is involved with is called “the rise of the rest”. He said this year for the first time more than 50% of investment capital in high tech will be done east of the Mississippi because of angel investors, great colleges, and high schools pushing kids into STEM.

Lowell and Lawrence have a history of being industrial. They were the first generation of globalization. That is our only advantage today as a country. The greatest thing we did was for the government to create the web and the internet. DARPA as established by the defense department in the early 1990s propelled this effort. When AOL first went on the web, it was deemed to be hacking of a government resource. But someone had the vision to open it to entrepreneurs. In the 1970s, Boston and vicinity was looking like the next phase of innovation. Wang was the biggest employer in Lowell. Lowell Tech was a great name. Missed a terrific branding opportunity by not keeping it. Had praise for Lowell and friends from Lowell (mentioned Steve Panagiotakos). Leonsis closed by saying “All the things I believe in harken back to Lowell”).

Ed Markey

Ed Markey remembered serving with Paul Tsongas forty years ago and is pleased to be serving now with Niki. He said Massachusetts has a history of being an innovation economy. It’s what drew people to the state and it continues to do so. He described a three part business plan for Massachusetts. 1. We educate at the world’s best universities and keep many of the graduates in the state. 2. We give them access to capital they need to create jobs. 3. We provide a world class workforce. Ten percent of the students at MIT come from Massachusetts but 38% of the students stay here after graduation. In response to a question, he talked of his experience with his mother contracting Alzheimers and said finding cures for these brain diseases is critical to our country’s future. It should be treated as the new mission to the moon. He called it a “mission to the mind.”

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren was introduced as the senior Senator from Massachusetts. She started with an example of Congress getting something done and that was on flood insurance. She said it will be more market based but will also provide fairer rates. There will also be new flood maps. If you challenge your inclusion on the map and prevail, the government must reimburse you your costs. The thinking is with that potential liability, the government will be more judicious in selecting which properties to include.

In May and June, there should be some progress on outstanding student debt. Those with debt might be able to refinance to lower rates. Also, there should be signs of greater Federal support for education. Finally, she spoke of the importance of increasing grant amounts for NIH. This would affect everyone in Massachusetts. More research into the diseases of aging “is the best way to build an economy in an aging country.
Regarding the cost of college, Warren reminded us that at the end of the 19th century, our society decided that a high school education was the minimum each young person needed to be a successful contributor to society (which in turn provided that education for free). At the end of the 20th century, everyone agrees that a post-secondary degree is the minimum needed to ensure entry to the middle class, but when it comes to paying for it, you’re on your own. It used to be that kids could go to state colleges and get an affordable education but state governments have cut so much support from higher education that colleges have had to increase tuition and fees. The result is $1.2 trillion in student debt that affects 40 million people.

In response to a question about the high cost of housing, Warren said we have to decrease the out-migration of residents. You can’t build more land. You have to invest in infrastructure like better roads and trains to make it easier and faster to get around. Massachusetts is a great place to live and work but investing in infrastructure, the ability to quickly move people around, is vital to the state’s economy. For decades, the US government invested in infrastructure but today’s budget craziness is just about cut, cut, cut. If we had better Federal support of education, infrastructure and research, the Massachusetts economy would be “off the charts.”

Richard Neal – Your committee assignment in Congress is your destiny; it’s where you make your mark. You want people to say “he/she knows what he’s talking about.” Talks about a proposal to revive the tax code developed by Chairman Camp (Republican). He brought all the players into a room, turned off the cameras, and asked them to defend their deductions. The result is more Democratic in its leaning and it’s not getting support from Republicans. The Bush tax cuts, two wars and the recession have put us in a precarious position. You can’t cut your way out but you also can’t tax your way out.

Neal said the challenge is how to get all the money corporations are sitting on back to work for the economy. He said growth remains tepid; demand is weak.” There’s better news for homeowners but not that much. There is some improvement in credit card debt. When Congress voted to increase the debt ceiling, Speaker Boehner said he wanted it to pass but only 27 Republicans voted with him. In the old days, those not doing so would have been stripped of committee chairmanships. This is unheard of in Congress. It shows the threat that the primary now poses in American politics.

Joe Kennedy made only brief remarks. He praised Niki and her staff for assisting him in getting settled into Congress. He mainly spoke about the importance of government funding for research and development. He said corporations don’t spend money on it because they need faster returns. They can’t wait 15 years. If you give a corporation a tax cut, it’s likely to use it to buy another company rather than to invest in R&D.