Gauntlets Thrown, Mass. Plans To Keep Young Talent

By Jess Bidgood

Aug. 9, 2011

Engineer Tom Dusseault analyzes solar wafers at 1366 Techologies, a solar-panel manufacturer in Lexington, Mass. (Jess Bidgood/WGBH)

BOSTON — Young people — both students and recent graduates — are considered the salt of the innovation economy, and Boston has a bigger proportion of them than any city in the country. Recently-released census data shows 35 percent of Boston's population is made up of 20-to-34 year-olds. The city now faces some competitive heat from its neighbors regarding its young residents.

Let's start with perennial Boston rival New York City. At last week’s New York Tech Meetup, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel touted his plan to work with the city's academic community to develop local science and tech talent for businesses, and, in doing so, laid down the gauntlet with Boston.

“So people talk about college towns like Ann Arbor, Cambridge, Boston, and the facts are that NYC has more college students than Boston has people," cracked Steel, to laughter and applause. "So I think it's pretty clear that when we pull out the bragging rights on where we're going to have innovation and have things happen, that New York's gonna be the place."

We next head north to Vermont, a state that isn't bragging about the size of its young population -- but will be looking to Massachusetts, among other states, to try to grow its professional ranks of science, technology, engineering and math talent.

In a recently announced program, the state will offer $1,500 in cash per year for up to five years to recent graduates who take jobs in those fields. The money is meant to help pay off their student loans.

Ken Horseman is an economic development specialist for the Vermont state government.

“Vemont’s high tech companies are really a well-kept secret, but there's truly world-class research and development being done up here. The businesses here are growing, they're hiring, but they're struggling to find people,” Horseman said.

The state will be publicizing the cash grants throughout New England, including on the T in Boston. "And we've also contacted directly the various career placement offices at northeast colleges including Boston," Horseman said.

Massachusetts officials say, bring it on.

“We expect competition and we welcome competition,” said Kofi Jones. She's the executive director of the Commonwealth Marketing office and the woman charged with trying to retain as many of Massachusetts’ college graduates as possible.

Jones says the state will next month re-launch its initiative, the Stay Here campaign, to connect students and recent graduates with in-state internships to keep them here.

“Education is our international calling card, and our innovation economy is growing in great part because we have that talent," Jones said. "We expect others to try to pull the workforce that we have here out of here but we're going to fight to keep them here."

According to Jones, there's already a clear connection between Massachusetts students and businesses. "Our companies are growing and getting stronger as a result.”

According to the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, over 80 percent of public university students stay in Massachusetts (about 16,000 students), along with about 50 percent of students at private colleges (about 33,000 students).

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