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Mass. unveils pitching staff

Luminaries urge college graduates to work here

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / December 4, 2010

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The Patrick administration is hoping local sports stars, celebrities, and other notables can persuade the state’s college students and recent graduates to stick around.

In a new online video series aimed at stemming the state’s brain drain, prominent figures such as Celtics guard Ray Allen, celebrity chef Todd English, and Zipcar chief executive Scott Griffith promote the culture, natural resources, and opportunities that make Massachusetts a desirable place to live.

Griffith talks up fishing and sea kayaking on the Cape. Patriots running back Kevin Faulk highlights Boston’s history. Allen, who lives in Wellesley, remarks on area residents’ strong hometown pride.

“People who travel all over the world, they love to come right back to this spot,’’ Allen says in his video, posted on the recently launched website, www.schoolofmassachusetts.com.

The “Stay Here’’ student retention campaign, part of a broader economic development marketing effort called “Massachusetts: It’s All Here,’’ targets an area of growing concern among local businesses: the availability of skilled and educated employees. The state’s technology- and innovation-based economy depends heavily on attracting and retaining such workers, but the looming retirement of baby boomers and increasing global competition for talent has many firms worried about labor shortages over the long term.

For the past two decades, more people have left Massachusetts than have moved in from other states, taking skills, spending power, and tax dollars with them. In addition, nearly half of the estimated 250,000 students who attend the state’s private colleges and universities each year leave after they graduate.

Having a skilled workforce is key to building existing companies and attracting new ones, said Kofi Jones, spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, who is heading up the marketing effort.

“Our businesses, our students, our residents are the lifeblood of our economy,’’ Jones said. “What this campaign really boils down to is that everybody that is involved is really committed to becoming great salespeople for the state.’’

One of those salespeople is English, the well-known chef and restaurateur whose local spots include Olives, Figs, and Bonfire. English, who has a home on Beacon Hill, will be one of the next local celebrities to appear on the site.

“There is such a diverse variety of opportunities available for students after they graduate to entice them to make Massachusetts their home,’’ he said in an e-mail.

The celebrity video website includes links to other “It’s All Here’’ Web pages with job openings, internships, and housing resources for college graduates, as well as networking events, resources, and news for business owners. The state is promoting the online campaign through social media such as Twitter and Facebook; speaking engagements with college career advisers; and partnerships with business leaders and groups such as the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Information & Technology Exchange, known as MITX, an Internet business and marketing association.

Many cities, regions, and countries have been trying to improve their images in order to attract more people, a marketing effort known as place branding that has taken off in the past decade. But Massachusetts’ focus on getting residents to stay is unusual, said Simon Anholt, a policy adviser who works with governments to improve their reputations.

This approach makes sense given Massachusetts’ reliance on highly educated people to drive the key science, technology, and financial sectors, said Boston College marketing professor Kathleen Seiders. But a $75,000 online campaign has a limited reach.

“I think a media campaign would be better than a website,’’ she said. “I think the state should do it right and invest resources.’’

Regardless of how much money the state spends, however, it will take more than internship opportunities and celebrity endorsements to persuade some people to put down roots here.

“If they’re leaving because they don’t like the climate,’’ Anholt said, “then offering them jobs won’t make much of a difference.’’

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase@globe.com.