Business good but employers worried, Greater Boston Chamber says

Companies in Massachusetts feel good about the state of business but worry about a few trends on the horizon and what they mean for the future.

“Our employers are optimistic when it comes to their own businesses or organizations, proud to live and work in Massachusetts, and energetic about contributing to our success as a state,” Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President Jim Rooney said Tuesday.

“However, they all also express uncertainty about the economy’s direction and the Commonwealth’s future. Contrasts are playing out in other ways across the local – and national – business picture,” he continued.

Rooney was delivering the chamber’s inaugural “State of Business Address,” when he explained there are more than 200,000 unfilled jobs in the Commonwealth currently coupled with a 3.3% unemployment rate.

“The state’s GDP is 8% higher than it was in 2018, but there are 75,000 fewer workers in the labor force,” Rooney said.

Part of the problem, as with so many things, are the lingering effects of the pandemic. With the rise of remote employment, workers have more choices than ever when they to decide where to live, Rooney said, and by and large they aren’t choosing Massachusetts.

“When it comes to competing for employers and talent, remote work is creating a seismic shift.
I hear anecdotes every day: A small business that went from 40 people in the Boston office to 35 with 5 working remotely in other states,” Rooney said. “This mobility of people, their talents, and their families is connected to remote and hybrid flexibility. The increasing options and benefits for workers are central to the future of work – and we cannot ignore it.”

Housing is too expensive in Massachusetts, Rooney observed and transportation in the state is either famously congested on the highways or, in the case of the MBTA, infamous for slowdowns or potential dangers.

Partnering with the business community, the chamber president said, is the solution.

“Yes, government has the ability through its delivery of services, legislation, and regulation to enable or restrict economic activity, but that economic activity and those jobs are created by business and commerce,” he said.

Rooney said moves by Gov. Maura Healey to appoint a housing secretary and bolster the clean energy market are good signs for the future, but that talent must be kept in the state.

Healey was in Wilmington and Dorchester Tuesday to tour a pair of Associated Industries of Massachusetts member businesses when she made similar points, saying keeping workers in Massachusetts was a top priority for her.

“As your governor, I want you to go visit Texas, I want you to go spend time in the Carolinas, you can go to Florida, but I want you here,” Healey said. “I want you working here, I want you growing families here, right? I want you to build your careers here. I know Massachusetts is in competition right now with a few other places.”