On Monday evening, Jan. 4, Joseph M. Petty was inaugurated for his third term as mayor.
In his inaugural address, delivered on the stage of the Hanover Theatre for the
Performing Arts, Petty re-affirmed themes from his campaign, specifically collaboration and cooperation between the administration, City Council, School Committee, the private sector and the state and federal governments.
Petty said, “Today we are building a future that is worthy of our past.” That sentence encapsulated his view of Worcester in the 21st century, an aspirational outlook for a city that is educated, creative, healthy, inclusive and safe.
Implicit in Petty’s view is that a city which is educated, creative, healthy, inclusive and safe is also employed.
That view is rooted in long-held economic theory that private investment is key to the long-term vibrancy of urban areas.
In 1995, Michael E. Porter wrote in the Harvard Business review, “A sustainable economic base can be created in the inner city, but only as it has been created elsewhere: through private, for-profit initiatives and investment based on economic self-interest and genuine competitive advantage — not through artificial inducements, charity, or government mandates.”
In addition, he wrote that government “must shift its focus from direct involvement and intervention to creating a favorable environment for business. This is not to say that public funds will not be necessary. But subsidies must be spent in ways that do not distort business incentives, focusing instead on providing the infrastructure to support genuinely profitable businesses.”
Sound as it may be, this theory of the case assumes a healthy economic environment is enough to attract educated workers, willing consumers and private investment dollars. This cannot be assumed anymore.
The dawn of the Information Age has made it possible for large numbers of jobs to be performed anywhere in the world, in the best case, or eliminated, in the worst case.
In a panel discussion in June with other local business leaders, Hanover Insurance CEO Frederick H. Eppinger acknowledged this. The Worcester Business Journal reported: “ ‘What’s interesting about all (of the) companies’ represented on the panel is that ‘we can move’ from the area, said Eppinger, who mentioned that he continually receives requests from other communities to move Hanover Insurance out of Worcester, where it was founded in 1852.”
This means that even with a world-class, business-friendly environment, Worcester is not assured of private investment dollars. Indeed, it may well come to pass that the mayor’s aspirational view of Worcester is no more than the minimum required to compete on a regional, national or global stage.
This sobering thought should not detract from what was a well-written, well-delivered and well-received inaugural address.
It should, though, be a reminder that there is much work to be done. It should also be a reminder that at this point in Worcester’s history the city is fortunate to have a mayor who could lay out such a grand vision.