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Globe Editorial

New ‘Vault’ brings hope for new era of civic leadership

March 8, 2010

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THE 14 business leaders who formed the Massachusetts Competitiveness Partnership deserve credit for restoring the tradition of civic leadership in Boston. Many of them, including Partners Healthcare Chairman Jack Connors, Suffolk Construction CEO John F. Fish, and Ronald E. Logue of State Street, never stopped believing that Boston’s future and that of local businesses are inextricably linked, even as outside conglomerates began taking over banks and other service industries. Other members, such as Liberty Mutual CEO Edmund F. Kelly, are literally putting their company’s money where their mouths are, planning Boston-area expansions.

If the partnership can provide contributions to help preserve important services such as libraries and summer jobs for teenagers, its presence will be even more welcome. Providing advice to Beacon Hill lawmakers on how to create a more business-friendly environment can only help, as well. And the members also deserve praise for extending their vision beyond Boston, seeing economic opportunities in lower-cost but struggling cities such as Springfield and New Bedford.

Most Bostonians recognize, in some indefinable way, that the city has lost some of its identity in the age of multi-national corporations. Being a branch-office city, even a high-end one, doesn’t satisfy the Hub mentality. That vague sense of diminishing status has been enough to create nostalgia for the heyday of the Vault, the now-defunct group of 25 business leaders who advised city leaders starting in the 1960s. Today, most people have forgotten that the Vault was once believed to exercise shadowy power, subverting neighborhoods in favor of a downtown agenda.

The partnership is unlikely to follow that path. But it also has a ways to go before it can exercise Vault-like clout. Some major drivers of the local economy aren’t represented, such as the Fidelity Corporation and any pharmaceutical firm. The members include 13 white males and a white woman, a lack of diversity that may well reflect the complexion of the state’s business leaders. If so, it suggests a distressing disconnect between employers and the fast-growing communities of color that are centered around many of the neediest areas of Massachusetts.

There’s much to do to restore the state’s vitality, promote a dynamic business economy, and extend a spirit of opportunity to immigrants and racial minorities. The partnership should make those core commitments its creed.

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