Monday, November 30, 2009

Bob Forrant's Seven-Fold Path

Woodrow Wilson rated 14 points. FDR got it done with four freedoms, which is how many Noble Truths the Buddha used. For Bob Forrant today at the UML ICC, there were Seven Ways laid out for helping us get out of the current Great Recession and helping to ensure that we don't find our way back into the abyss anytime too soon.

After warming the audience up with enough dismal economic statistics to remind us how he earned the moniker "Doctor Doom," Forrant began outlining steps that the city and the Greater Merrimack Valley can take to improve our economic footing.

First, some of the most chilling statistics: That 1 in every 4 children in the U.S. today relies on food stamps for basic caloric intake; that the FDIC is now 8.2 billion dollars in the red; that the official unemployment rate in Lawrence is 18 percent; and that if under-employment and the total discouragement of former job-seekers is factored in, we're actually approaching 25 percent of able-bodied, non-institutionalized American adults out of work. Another key statistic -- repeated twice for emphasis -- was that the proportion of workers who've been out of work for 26 or more weeks is now higher than at any point since the Great Depression.

Some of the local problems (9% current unemployment here in the Commonwealth) stem from the bleeding away of manufacturing jobs. In 2000, there were 417,000 total manufacturing jobs in the state; now, there are only 295,000. Nationally, we rank behind all our industrialized peers (except France) in terms of the percentage of our workforce engaged in manufacturing.

As Bob Forrant has said before on a couple local blogs, to include Left in Lowell and, a regional jobs summit involving all the key business and political "players" is needed, and it needs to happen yesterday.

Here are Dr. Forrant's seven recommendations:

I. Allow children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities like UML. This is an investment in the future that would prevent us from developing a long-term underclass by denying people an affordable education.

II. Support and expand partnerships across Lowell High School, Middlesex Community College, UMass-Lowell and other area schools, esp. in the science and health fields. Forrant called for an expansion of programs such as Governor Patrick's Commonwealth Corps. He cited programs such as the one that puts 15 UML student tutors in algebra classes at LHS. During the lecture and then during the question-and-answer session, it was agreed that there is already tremendous traction in regards to this recommendation -- it just needs to be solidified and expanded further.

III. City and university partnerships for specific 'incubator' programs. Forrant cited the example of Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the City of Worcester coming together to put the Life Science and Bioengineering Institute in downtown Worcester just off 290 as a specific case study.

IV. Dramatic expansion of nursing programs and other health career fields between the two major hospitals (LGH, Saints Memorial) and the city's educational bodies. This point wasn't re-addressed during the Q and A, but study after study shows 'health care' as a field projected to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years.

V. Partnerships that will help foster long-term development in the 'Creative Economy.' Internships, training programs, and the use of venues like the recently-opened "The Space" on Western Avenue would help comprise a concerted effort to foster youth creativity and to retain the 'corporate knowledge' that is developed by the generations of Creative Economy participants now living in Lowell.

VI. Expanded partnerships with Merrimack Valley Groups. Forrant cited numerous non-profits and other community organizations as positive examples of citizens working together to educate others about things like how to avoid bank foreclosures and how to navigate the treacherous job market. Partnerships among the groups themselves would enable easier flow of ideas, social capital, and pooling of resources.

VII. Lowell as a center for 'Green Urbanism.' Forrant mentioned that in the past five years, several corporations have moved into Lowell and focused on green issues like building reuse, public transportation, and energy efficiency. Forrant called for Lowell to "build on that core" and see where it can help lead to a blueprint for economic recovery.

Forrant mentioned that when Lowell hit a time of crisis approximately 30 years ago, the opportunity it presented for a new way forward helped spawn things like the Lowell National Historical Park and the Lowell Plan. We may be at a similar juncture now -- with more economic woes forecast on the horizon and no clear path out of the current joblessness crisis, forward-thinking business and political leaders may be able to chart a course forward to calmer seas.

And at least on that note, even Dr. Doom broke into a smile and pointed to a half-full glass on the podium.


Renee said...

And here is my gripe with Professor Forrant's suggestions, you get a local education from UMass and the only job you can find is overseeing manufacturing in China or India.

My husband is working on all this great green projects, none of it though actually done in Massachusetts. He is just a guy in a cubicle who accepts packages from UPS China to be sent off to UPS Germany or vise versa.

His friend from the same engineering class is purchasing a business in North Carolina and moving down with his fiancee who got her pharmaceutical degree here in Boston.

Bob Forrant said...

Please do not shoot the messenger here. I am trying to figure out how to keep work here and not have your husband function as a package passer. We need to start somewhere. All ideas welcome.

Bob Forrant said...

Hi Renee,

I agree with what you describe thta your husband is forced to contend with - however your gripe is not with me. Don't shoot the messenger here. I am trying to figure out how we can keep more of the jobs exiting our region and at the same time develop a better investment climate to get more private sector employment that pays decent wages.

Renee said...

Sorry Bob.

But you know it's really easy.

The problem is so much bigger then being just a local issue.

Bob Forrant said...

No question that this is actually a global problem. One of my major beefs is with our do nothing congress and state legislature - who choose to take extended vacations and fiddle with more and more of the country goes jobless. When 1 in 4 kids in the US is fed with foodstamps there is enough of a mess, one would think, for the egomaniacs in Washington, D.C. and under our own golden dome to actually act like they care

Renee said...

I tend to see the problem starting from the American consumer. As consumers we seek a deal, assuming value, only end up with a cheap inferior product. The only way of cutting cost, even when you take the lower cost of labor being accounted for, they don't care about quality.

We rather have 25 poorly made pair of jeans sitting in our closet that don't fit us, then three pair made better. People will pay 150 dollars for a scarf at the Mall, because it has the tag Burberry on it when they could get a custom one created downtown for let's say 75 dollars.

I'm guilty of this. I rather take the immediate cheap, the thrill of getting a deal. It's like getting fast food. It's not a value when you get a stomach ache two hours later. I think it begins with our buying patterns. Too bad we have no money and are maxed out on credit.

C R Krieger said...

I see the Professor's point about not having a permanent under class and thus needing to provide educational opportunities for all our young folks, including those whose parents have insinuated them into our economy without documentation.

The first step is not in-state tuition for undocumented aliens, but a reduction of tuition and fees for all people who live in our Commonwealth.  UMass Lowell is a state institution.  The state should support it like the Great and General Court knew that our future depended on it. (Of course, I just argued on my own blog for no new spending.)

If we wish to have jobs for all who wish to work and to be able to house the homeless and educate children in 20 years we need to be educating the 18 to 25 year olds today.  If we think we might wish to maintain our infrastructure as it is, or even enhance it 20 years on, or even provide new infrastructure for doing things in a more "green" way, we need to be going out into the highways and byways and pulling young adults into college and not charging them an arm and a leg.  But, then, I grew up in California.  My point about California is that if you stop moving and stand in place you will soon fall behind.

As for the undocumented immigrants, could we start referring to them as queue jumpers, as that is what they are.  Thousands await, in their nation of birth or some waypoint, their number coming up so they can come to our nation.  Await patiently.  Illegal immigrants cost me a little in terms of taxes, but by and large provide benefits to the nation.  The people they harm are aspiring US citizens, who are playing by the rules.  At least that is what my boss, a naturalized US citizen, has conveyed to me.

Who is speaking for those who are following the rules?

Regards  —  Cliff

Renee said...

I realize this may seem off topic, but if we are going to focus on the college population, as a way to maintain economic development students also need the support to be very prudent with their spending decisions, so that they settle down after college smoothly as possible without worrying about school loans and consumer debt.

Just an observation, but I always thought it was interesting when we make the claim that college students can't afford college, yet consumer markets always see this demographic as having the most disposable income. I even seen this to as a way to revitalize downtown Lowell with students, assuming the have disposable income to spend.

We can't have it both ways, saying college needs to be cheap yet the message is spend and put off paying for college. Of course it is hindsight, but it would of been nice to tell the 22 year old me, pay off your loans ASAP even while in school. Ten years later thinking about a mortgage, car payments, electric/heating bills, and so on.... on top of a student loan isn't so grand.

Again it goes into the consumer culture of young people spending. Why should I feel bad about a middle class family not affording a state school, when clearly they can afford the disposable income lifestyle for that young adult?

The think is many middle class families can't keep up with the upper middle class lifestyle that may be seen closer to Boston, and I'm afraid students and their families may be digging even a deeper hole.

George said...

Jim Valvano said “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special.”

He also said "Don't give up, don't ever give up."

As for Lowell, it's all happening. But we need to connect the dots.

Kevin Dye said...

On Recommendation V: Partnerships in the Creative Economy

Where do people think the greatest opportunities are for stronger alliances between non-profits and for-profits?

Anne said...

Sometime I'd like to sit down and talk to you about the ultimate goals of creating a Lowell Handmade Marketplace that incorporates local farmers, local chefs, local crafts, imported crafts that benefit local families, and a community commercial kitchen for cultural and food education and safety as well as a local food co-op. I know you know Allegra - but we've never seemed to sit down together to talk about the challenges and opportunities for this idea to come to fruition. All the best - Anne,