Finding Private Sector Solutions to Public Sector Problems

Boston’s bid to attract bigger companies requires developing new partnerships.
October 3, 2017
A recent study by The Boston Foundation reveals 70 percent of Millennials are dissatisfied with Boston housing costs. David Kidd
Broadly Partnered

Cities need private companies to solve transportation and housing issues. And thankfully, more and more private companies are realizing they need to be part of the solution to be competitive.

A recent study by The Boston Foundation reveals 70 percent of Millennials are dissatisfied with Boston housing costs. In a city where a parking spot can cost $350,000 and even a $1 million condo is not likely to come with parking, it’s no wonder that the debate over whether Amazon should come to town is even hotter than the real estate market.

Amazon is looking for a second headquarters and at first glance, who wouldn’t want an influx of 50,000 jobs and the ensuing economic multiplier? Boston is a great place to live and work with a deep talent pool and many amenities. It recently attracted General Electric, which is bringing 800 jobs to town. But 800 is a far cry from 50,000.

Barry Bluestone, a senior fellow at The Boston Foundation, said no city in this country will be able to provide 50,000 jobs for Amazon without attracting new workers. Boston is so far up to the task. Its many universities already attract new talent. And it has learned how to create a viable ecosystem of capital to feed startup companies and partner with its universities, hospitals and corporations to fuel the economy. However, it also needs to take a close look at how the private sector can solve problems typically seen as public sector issues.

In California, Google and Facebook are just some of the large companies playing a role in increasing the housing stock to attract and retain workers. Apple has provided a commuter subsidy for the last decade as well as a shuttle connecting its headquarters to employees around the Bay Area. In Seattle, where the presence of Amazon’s first headquarters has contributed to skyrocketing housing costs, the Seattle Children’s Hospital is partnering with the University of Washington to build affordable housing for employees.

Companies in Boston have yet to play as big a role as their West Coast counterparts in solving transportation and housing issues, but the city must seriously look at how to partner in these ways if it is to attract larger companies. There are already a number of major universities and hospitals that could work with private developers to guarantee occupancy or sign master leases. There are also ways the city could help broker conversations between existing companies and private development to find housing and transportation solutions. Then, the prospect of adding 50,000 more jobs becomes more feasible, whether those jobs come from Amazon or not.