Don’t look back

And so on to Boston for the final leg of my trip.  Physically I am flagging, but mentally I am buzzing.  The jet lag has worn off and the 3am gym sessions have finally taken their toll!  It was always going to be the case.  My arrival in Boston has provided just the injection of adrenaline that I require right now.

I love this city.  I nearly moved here a few years ago but couldn’t quite make it work for my family.  I have to confess, there has been a tinge of regret ever since.

The reason is simple. Boston is a truly great city.  To my mind it has all the key ingredients required by a modern, competitive and buoyant metropolis.  It has history and culture in abundance with a rich infrastructure that appeals to visitors and residents alike.  It is a connected city – walking around here is both possible and recommended.  It has brains.  There are 250,000 students attending college in Boston and Cambridge alone, contributing some $4.8 billion to the city’s economy annually (one assumes that must be expenditure that goes beyond the student staples of beer and partying!).  Critically it is a city that thrives on turning its brains into business.  Research, manufacturing, finance and bio-technology are all at the heart of the economy and have led to the city being ranked as #1 for innovation globally.  Of course this has led to some downside.  Boston has one of the highest costs of living in the US, yet despite this it remains the 3rd highest US city in world liveability rankings.

Given all this it is little wonder that my alma matter – Loughborough University – classified Boston as an ‘incipient global city’ back in 2004.  Looking around the streets here, witnessing the commercial heart of the city in action, it is clear to me that over the succeeding 7 years Boston has well and truly emerged.  In many ways it might serve as a blueprint for urban success going forward.  The vibe here is somewhere between the booming growth of the west coast and the cautious conservatism that I witnessed in Chicago.  There is a positive outlook (this is the USA after-all) but the brain power of this city also brings a sensibility to that outlook.  Out of all the audiences I have spoken to on this trip, those in Boston have been most engaged and probing around the implications of the Eurozone crisis.  A presentation to a corporate client in the healthcare sector emphasised this concern but also showed that in knowledge based industries growth and expansion is very much on the agenda.  Encouragingly, interest in the opportunity markets of EMEA was high.

There is one similarity between Chicago and Boston that disturbs me.  Both cities gave their names to rather dubious AOR bands of the 1970s and 1980s.  Reflecting this, and in now time honoured tradition, the very title of this blog is that of Boston’s second difficult (both to conceive and to listen too) album.  As my trip draws to a close, I can’t help but ignore the east coast ‘rockers’ advice and look back.  The last eight days have provided me with powerful insights into the mindset of corporate America.  Specifically they have illustrated to me:

– the sheer strength of growth in the technology sector
– the challenges of accommodating this growth
– the variance in business outlook and attitude across America’s greatest cities
– the disparity in the concerns voiced by CRE professionals around the Eurozone crisis
– the multiple challenges that the modern and mature CRE leader is now having to face up to

But most of all, the trip has re-emphasised all the things I love about America.  The can-do attitude.  The spirit of self-improvement.  The strong desire to learn and build knowledge.  The great sense of optimism and belief.   It fuels a further retrospection in me.  As I enter once more into the colossal tin tube tasked with taking me home, I cannot help but wonder how differently I might have developed if a different decision had been taken a few years back.