The following testimony was submitted by JD Chesloff of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable to the Joint Committee on Ways & Means and the House Committee on Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight for the July 27, 2021 virtual hearing on the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)—Focusing on Labor & Workforce Development and Housing.

Chairman Rodrigues, Chairman Michlewitz, Chairman Hunt, and Members of the Committees, thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the expenditure of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding on behalf of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. 

The Roundtable is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy organization comprised of CEOs and Senior Executives from the state’s largest employers, collectively employing more than 250,000 people in diverse industry sectors across the state. Our mission is to strengthen the state’s long-term economic vitality and competitiveness by engaging with public and private leaders on policy solutions that make Massachusetts a highly desirable place to do business in the global economy. Our public policy agenda is guided by increasing opportunity, promoting equity, and driving competitiveness, three principles we believe will be helpful in your consideration of ARPA funding.

Where and how people work has dramatically shifted since the start of the pandemic, and employer projections indicate trends have and will continue to impact our workforce. The Roundtable recently surveyed its members to understand post-pandemic plans, and a few noteworthy findings include:

  • 79% of responding employers will use a “hybrid” work model post-pandemic. For employers and employees who can do so, this is a major change especially since 90% of the same employers maintained all or mostly in-person work models prior to the pandemic.
  • 88% of responding employers plan to maintain, expand, or relocate within Massachusetts in the next 12 to 24 months, citing access to talent—and particularly diverse talent—as the main driver for operating in the state.
  • When given the flexibility to consider remote options, responding employers noted 5% of the workforce from Massachusetts based operations worked out-of-state pre-pandemic but this number more than quadrupled to 21% during the pandemic and employers forecast this trend will stay as high as 15% post-pandemic – tripling pre-pandemic norms.

While access to world-class, diverse talent has long been Massachusetts’ calling card, the pandemic proved remote work can be successful regardless of location, and talent now has the flexibility to be increasingly mobile. At the same time, the pandemic cast a spotlight on the thousands of unemployed and underemployed in Massachusetts. If we lose talent and if we do not develop talent, our competitive advantage will be threatened. That is why it is imperative for Massachusetts to prioritize talent attraction and retention, talent development, and talent diversitywith a cost environment that avoids the risks of losing it. Leveraging ARPA funds for investments in talent attraction and retention, talent development, and talent diversity will support Massachusetts’ recovery and long-term competitiveness.

We respectfully recommend the following framework to focus on talent:

  1. Talent Attraction and Retention: Meaningful strategies and infrastructure investments will improve the quality-of-life to encourage people to live, work, play, and innovate here. Statewide investments include:
    1. Accessible workforce housing and affordable housing
    1. Reliable transit networks, responsive to the range of work models and shifts
    1. Affordable and accessible childcare and mental health services
    1. Vibrant placemaking that includes open space, arts and culture, and broadband
  • Talent Development: Equitable rapid reemployment strategies will strengthen the current Massachusetts talent pool for employers to tap. The Workforce Solutions Group, comprised of organizations dedicated to advocating for workforce development strategies—including the Roundtable—established five key strategies in March 2021 that form the basis for a comprehensive talent development strategy:
    • Expand technical training and work-based learning to train, reskill, and upskill the unemployed and underemployed
    • Expand programs for speakers of other languages
    • Invest in digital access, proficiency, and capacity
    • Fully fund existing workforce system capacity
    • Prioritize and fund “work supports” like child care, transportation, and housing to ensure people can enter and successfully complete training programs

Additionally, long-term investments in our K-12 education system will lead to gains for both employers seeking to access future talent as well as students pursuing access to college and career. Building on the state’s investments in expanded vocational technical education, Early College, school-to-career connecting activities, and STEM education is critical as we invest in our future talent. 

  • Talent Diversity: Massachusetts needs to be a safe and welcoming place for all. It is a business imperative for Massachusetts to be intentional in increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace and our communities. Over the past year, the commitment to DEI has strengthened—more than 90% of Roundtable members surveyed expect to increase their focus on DEI post-pandemic, with particular attention to recruiting and supporting diverse workers. Areas for priority include:
    • Prioritizing opportunity pathways for women and people of color to access and pursue an education and career
    • Increasing spending and awarding of contracts to women and minority owned businesses
    • Making capital available to women and minority owned businesses

As the future of work continues to evolve, the need to invest in our talent and future talent remains constant. To support a strong, sustainable, and impactful recovery, we respectfully urge you to build on the state’s investments in talent by considering strategies and policies that effectively attracts, retains, develops, and diversifies talent in Massachusetts. As a Roundtable member once said, “business will go to where the talent is.” Our recommendations provide a framework designed to ensure that talent remains here and grows here. The Roundtable stands ready to be a resource to the Legislature on this important topic. Thank you for your thoughtful deliberations and support in key investments that will continue to make Massachusetts a thriving place to live, work, play, and innovate.

July 27, 2021