Massachusetts skills mean quality in Britain

Unemployment may be raging in Britain, but British industry is leading the pack in stoking the Massachusetts labor scene with new jobs. The reason: The reputation of the Massachusetts worker sells well overseas.

In the competition among states to draw foreign industry, it's the quality of Massachusetts labor and its availability that often emerges as the critical factor, according to Jonh Moriarty, executive director of the Massachusetts Foreign Business Council.

The stiffest competition comes from the Sunbelt, especially Georgia, the Carolinas, and Florida, Mr. Moriarty says, where labor is cheap. Still, Massachusetts holds its own.

In fact, the New England states together have attracted more foreign companies per square mile, per person, or per manufacturing worker than any other region of the country in recent years. That's one finding of a 1980 study by Jane Sneddon Little, a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston economist.

This means jobs -- both through new plants and offices built by foreign companies and through foreign acquisitions of existing industries.

For this very reason, Mr. Moriarty says the Foreign Business Council tries to avoid drawing foreign computer companies into the bidding for the state's tight supply of computer engineers.

But sophisticated industries with new technology are still a Bay State strong suit. Forty percent of its work force, according to Mr. Moriarty, works in high technology industries.

He sees Georgia, with its aggressive courting of foreign business through six development offices abroad, as "direct competitors."

Even stronger competition comes from Vermont, which tops the Nation in per capita foreign investment by a solid margin. And nearly all of this investment takes the form of construction of new plants.

Foreign investment in Massachusetts more often involves the buying of existing businesses. This may be what makes the state particularly attractive to the British, since Jane Sneddon Little notes that 80 percent of new British investments from 1977-79 were through acquisitions, rather than new construction.

An advantage for massachusets is that its labor pool is geared to the conditions of modern industry.

"This state has basically gone through that wrenching transition from labor-intensive to capita-intensive industrial base, Mr . Moriarty explains.

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