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October 31, 2023 11:38am

OP-ED: Boston’s past successes shed light on Louisville’s future opportunities

This editorial originally appeared in Louisville Business First  on October 31, 2023

When Greater Louisville Inc. announced we would take more than 150 business leaders to Boston for our annual Greater Louisville Idea Development Exploration (GLIDE), the first question we received was, how do you fairly compare the two cities?

While Louisville may never have the scale of Boston, at least in the foreseeable future, there are still important lessons we can learn from their growth, success and missteps. On our trip to Boston, we learned that while Boston may have a leg up on Louisville today, in many ways our region is primed for faster growth in the future.

Storytelling leads to new opportunity

The ability to create a place where businesses, talent and visitors can thrive is foundational, and Boston has done it well. But where they have really shined is in their ability to tell their story in a cohesive and memorable way.

Boston has made their region synonymous with biotech, medical advances and career opportunities. For years the feedback from visitors and businesses has been the same; Louisville has so much to offer, but people do not know about it.

Boston has leveraged tools like a Tourism Improvement District (TID) to tell their story internationally to bring more investment and visitors to the region. Louisville recently created our own TID and GLI and Louisville Metro Government will soon launch a national marketing campaign targeting businesses and site selectors in key industry sectors.

To market ourselves effectively we also must address chronic problems in our community before they are highlighted in the national spotlight. Boston leveraged a Group Violence Intervention model to decrease gang violence in the 1990s and turned around a national reputation for violence.

Louisville should continue to embrace these proven strategies and try new solutions to curb a growing epidemic of violence that has a direct correlation on our ability to grow.

Talent drives growth

With 64 colleges and universities in the Boston area, there is an abundant pool of talent. This is an obvious draw for fast-growing businesses who need individuals with highly technical skills. Businesses flock to Boston for the talent, and the talent stays in Boston because of the high-paying jobs with growth potential.

But we learned Boston’s talent retention and attraction is not purely organic; it happens through intentional partnerships between higher-education and businesses to create streamlined pathways from degree programs to jobs in the region.

Many of these intentional efforts start earlier than higher education because students form their interests long before college and high school. That’s why Boston has put an emphasis on STEM education and leaned into partnerships with businesses to get students interested in high-demand careers as early as middle school.

In Louisville, we face a shortage of these STEM-skilled workers. GLI partners with KentuckianaWorks and JCPS’ Academies of Louisville program to leverage our chamber relationships and engage employers in the program.

GLI and our workforce partners must increase dedicated staff time to expanding partnership with employers and higher education institutions that create direct pipelines for talent retention so that we can fill the jobs of the future.

We should also continue to support JCPS’ work to expand the Academies program to middle schools to reach students as their interests form.

Built environment sells the city

Access to talent is not the only asset Boston leverages to bring in new business and investment. They’ve leaned into creating an aesthetically pleasing environment which brings people to their urban amenities. Projects like the Longwood Medical District create a strong quality of place.

Investing in revitalization is critical to marketing the region for business and talent attraction. That is why our community must continue to support efforts like LOUMED, Louisville’s up and coming medical district that employs over 16,000 people in our city.

We should also continue to modernize Kentucky’s local tax structure to allow cities to diversify revenue while moving away from production-based taxes. This will make the state and our region more competitive and draw businesses, talent and tourism to our region.

We learned from the successes and challenges of Boston and left encouraged that accelerated growth is very much within Louisville’s reach. The actions detailed above, in addition to the great economic momentum our region currently has, will help get us to the next level, but only with the buy-in and support of our entire community.

We will be sharing more information about key lessons learned from Boston in the coming weeks.

— Camilla Schroeder is the president of Advance Ready Mix Concrete Inc. and chair of GLIDE Boston. Sarah Davasher-Wisdom is president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc.