What Works In A Relationship Era Is Relationship Leadership

Critics say we have an overly personal approach to economic development in Boston, but I think it's one of our great strengths. As companies increasingly embrace the collaboration economy and its relationship method, cities that want to cultivate these businesses will need to do the same.
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Last week in Boston, one of the world's most innovative pharmaceutical companies announced that it would open a small-scale manufacturing complex on our waterfront and launch a multi-year science partnership to train the next generation of Boston's science workforce. So, on top of the 1 million square feet Vertex Pharmaceuticals already has under construction in Boston to house 1,400 workers, and on top of the science education they already support at one of Boston's exam schools, they added a manufacturing annex, adoption of two more high schools, a community learning lab, scholarships, and 20 summer jobs for teens. In partnering here, Vertex showed huge confidence in Boston's vibrant economic present and tremendous commitment to our economic future.

This kind of collaboration is happening all over Boston. Public-private partnerships are the fuel behind our summer jobs campaign that will put 10,000 teens to work. They are the behind our progressive Greenovate strategy that has helped community-rooted green companies like Next Step Living grow from 3 employees to more than 350. New collaborations are the backbone of our strategy to grow the urban food economy, to help our hospitals and health centers add jobs, to support MassChallenge, the world's largest startup-competition, and its companies which have created more than 2,000 jobs.

These kinds of collaborations are why Boston is working. Buy why are these collaborations working? Relationship Leadership.

Critics may say we have an overly personal approach to economic development in Boston, but I think it's one of our great strengths. In Boston, the relationship message comes from the top. (The Boston Globe says I have personally met more than half of my half million neighbors.) And the relationship way is spread throughout our efforts to attract and support companies. They include:

Recruitment and retention. Our appeal to businesses to locate in Boston relies as much on relationship building as it does on demographics. In pitching our Innovation District, we share invitations to help it grow, as much as we brag about its current assets. And in place of more traditional business recruiting efforts (airline magazine advertisements come to mind) we launched Boston World Partnerships. Its unique connector network links hundreds of engaged Bostonians and their business leads and needs, to each other and back to our government.

Infrastructure. In Boston, we invest in relationship infrastructure alongside traditional city infrastructure. In addition to roadways and cleaned up waterways, we're building relationship assets like our public innovation center as a gathering spot for the innovation ecosystem. We've partnered to start innovation community groups like IDEA, knowing that along with the traditional city things to support for after work hours (street lights, transportation, etc.), Rock Band competitions now go on the list.

The Facebook era hasn't made these kinds of personal touches old school; it's made them all the more important. As companies increasingly embrace the collaboration economy and its relationship methods -- harnessing networks, the breaking down of boundaries -- cities that want to cultivate and support these businesses will need to do the same.

And as the world increasingly looks to the 20 to 34-year-old workforce as the engine of future growth, cities will need to work in relationship ways to attract them. They've grown up in an era of networking. When I meet with them, the word they use most is "collaboration." Many can't imagine a time when idea-making and deal-making happened most behind closed doors. They thrive on connections.

Boston has more of these young workers per capita than any big American city, but I'm certainly not the only mayor that can relationship lead. It requires some different policy choices (I favor get-to-know-you meetings with entrepreneurs over data-heavy sector studies). It demands some deliberate signal sending. (We don't use digital prompts at my 24-hour hotline -- you will always get a human when you call). But if city officials put their mind to it, they shouldn't have too difficult a time bringing people together. After all, that's what cities do best.

A national leader on neighborhood issues, Mayor Thomas M. Menino believes that government is about helping people. Elected five times as Mayor of Boston and five times as a City Councilor from Hyde Park, he has spent a lifetime building a better Boston for residents and businesses.

Nicknamed the "Urban Mechanic" early in his career for his tireless work ethic and attention to the basics that make for a thriving city, Mayor Menino is working to inspire a generation of New Urban Mechanics, rooted in the belief that citizens are the best civic entrepreneurs. Forging partnerships to revitalize neighborhoods, strengthening the economy through workforce investments, and innovating in education, his vision for Boston is based on strong, welcoming communities that provide unlimited opportunity for success.