John Fish talks anti-business sentiment and more

The point here is that Fish not only knows Boston, but sees local business conditions in parts of the country far removed from our parish bubble. In addition, as Chair of the National Real Estate Roundtable, he has first-hand experience promoting industry policy priorities in Washington.

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I spoke to Fish on Wednesday and while we covered a number of issues, here are his views on three issues he feels are urgent.

The looming debt crisis in commercial real estate could derail the economy

More than $900 billion in commercial and multi-family loans is expected to mature this year and next. But high interest rates — and low occupancy rates at downtown office buildings and retail locations — have left many homeowners feeling pressured because they owe more to lenders than to the value of their property.

This has raised serious concerns about how the debt can be refinanced without forcing banks to make large write-downs and increase their capital buffers, which would prompt them to restrict lending and thus slow the economy.

“We’re in a very precarious situation,” Fish said.

The Real Estate Roundtable has asked federal banking regulators to give lenders and borrowers more time — as they had after the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the outbreak of COVID-19 — to restructure debt while real estate valuations stabilize and the owners raise more equity to cover their loans.

If the regulators agree, “there is no doubt in my mind. . . the debt can remain and [bank lending] will not be interrupted,” Fish said.

At the same time, Fish said, getting more workers back into offices is critical and the federal government should lead by example. About half of the government’s 2 million civilian employees started working remotely in March 2020; Many have not yet returned. Last month, the Biden administration told federal agencies it wanted to “substantially increase” outreach, but Fish believes it needs to be more aggressive.

“The federal government is the body that asked people to go home. And the federal government has not reversed that course and urged people to come back,” Fish said.

Fish said co-location is “a very important part of American business culture” and that more office workers in America’s inner cities would give a boost to surrounding businesses.

The construction industry is suffering from a labor shortage

“Construction unemployment in America today is zero,” Fish said.

As a result, wages – and construction costs – have risen significantly.

He identified three factors behind the labor shortage: an aging workforce, labor losses during the pandemic, and immigration restrictions. And he lamented the House’s failure to approve a bipartisan Senate bill in 2013 that would have opened the way for millions of undocumented immigrants to citizenship, offered temporary work visas to the low-skilled and significantly strengthened border security.

Fish said reforming immigration policies along the same lines that failed in 2013 is essential to sustaining economic growth.

“If we don’t solve the immigration crisis, we will continue to see high wages, high construction costs and a housing shortage,” he said.

Massachusetts exudes anti-business sentiment

Fish has been an active behind-the-scenes opponent of the Fair Share Amendment, the union-backed proposal for a 4 percentage point surcharge on income over $1 million.

Voter approval of the so-called millionaire tax is a clear signal to the rest of the world that Massachusetts has no particular interest in supporting corporations, he said.

Fish said it was time for a “more important conversation” about the growing anti-business sentiment in the state. He didn’t criticize Gov. Maura Healey or other Democrats in the House, instead saying that there are a lot of young people in Massachusetts and “the younger people are, the more they tend to look at businesses with a critical eye.”

But Fish made it clear that he felt things had changed since Charlie Baker left the corner office.

“The last administration has consistently emphasized the importance of business in promoting economic and social prosperity,” he said.

“It is important that we value more of what we have to offer in order to attract and retain businesses, and that we build consensus with both the political establishment and the business community so that our value proposition is not diluted or compromised.” “ ”

Achieving consensus on how to make Massachusetts more competitive seems harder than building a skyscraper in the middle of Downtown Crossing.

Larry Edelman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd.


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