The lion’s share of business leaders polled at an economic outlook breakfast on Tuesday said they were optimistic that the Massachusetts economy will outperform the U.S. economy over the next 12 months, but they also expressed concerns about housing, transportation and a coming skill shortage as Baby Boomers enter retirement.
At the 16th annual forum, hosted by Santander Bank and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, audience members were invited to participate in a real-time survey that asked their thoughts about challenges, hiring and capital expenditures at their own companies, in addition to testing their sentiments on both the state and national economy.
Among the 350 or so attendees, 82 percent said they believe the U.S. economy will improve over the next 12 months and 86 percent responded that they think the local economy will outpace the national economy. Almost 70 percent said they felt their own business would improve over the next 12 months, and while almost half of those surveyed said they planned to hire over the next year, 45 percent also said they anticipated challenges in finding matching skill sets for those positions that open up.
That dovetailed nicely into a presentation after the poll by Michael Goodman, executive director of the public policy center at UMass Dartmouth. Goodman touched on that skills gap when he discussed some of the highlights and lowlights of the state and national economy.
Calling it “an extraordinary labor market recovery,” Goodman said that Massachusetts has been outperforming the rest of the country in terms of adding jobs. Even though the last three quarters of 2015 saw some slowdown in the job growth, largely owing to geopolitical and international developments, he said, “we’re at record levels of employment.”
But that job recovery has been lopsided, he said. New job growth has been disproportionately concentrated in white-collar positions, particularly in innovation and knowledge intensive sectors of the economy.
And though the Massachusetts economy has seen a resurgence of construction jobs, particularly in the past three to four years, the Bay State still has fewer construction workers employed now than it did before the recession.
“The challenge Massachusetts is facing is really similar to the challenge the nation is facing in the imbalance of the labor market recovery,” Goodman said. “Even though we’ve seen robust job growth that rising tide has not even coming close to lifting all boats.”
Meanwhile, the survey’s respondents also cited housing costs and availability (28 percent), transportation infrastructure (20.5 percent) and competing with other states and countries to attract and retain business (12.9 percent) as the top challenges facing the state of Massachusetts.