Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Nothing like a good list to start the year off right

We all know that one of the best things about one year getting the boot and the other a shake out of the old welcome mat is that people come up with all sorts of lists. The ten best books/movies/TV shows/songs of the year.Biggest celebrity make-ups/break-ups. Five technologies to keep your eye on in 2017. The twenty most important people to die in 2016. Five things to look for in 2016. (That one’s easy: lies, damned lies, post-truth, meshugas, and tweets.)

I will confess to being a sucker for those lists, even if I haven’t seen any of the movies, even if I haven’t heard of most of the celebrities. (Some, I have of course. But the details tend to elude me. Blake and Miranda? 2016, or earlier?)

So I was naturally drawn to an article in the Boston Globe on companies to watch in the coming year. What better topic for Pink Slip than something that combines business with the nonsensical lure of lists?

Because this is Boston, and because this is the Boston Globe, all the companies we’re keeping our eye on are local.

The list starts, not surprisingly, with GE, the big kahuna that Massachusetts wooed from Connecticut last year, making us – Yay, us! – home to one of the Fortune 500 Top Ten Eleven. We’re mostly keeping an eye on GE to watch how construction proceeds on their new HQ (completion date: 2018), which will be going up in South Boston’s Fort Point section. Beyond the solar-array on the roof – the one that will look like a giant sail:

The most unusual aspect of the project involves the company’s efforts to attract people to the headquarters who aren’t GE employees. The complex will include a museum and restaurant, space for startups to get off the ground, and a career lab for ambitious high school students. There also will be room for several “convener spaces,” GE-speak for meeting rooms where “thought leaders” can exchange ideas and spark new ones.

I’ve gotta say, nothing strikes me as more of an indicator of the changes being wrought to Boston in general and Southie in particular than the fact that “thought leaders” will be meeting in “convener spaces.” Remember when the “thought leaders” were Whitey Bulger and his mooks, and the “convener spaces” were Triple O’s Lounge and the Rabbit Inn?

Anyway, welcome to GE. Having you here is wicked pissah.

nuTonomy is an MIT spinout that’s all about the autonomous technology that will cause Car and Driver to change it’s name to Car and Sensors and Software. The first Boston driverless car experiments will take place in South Boston, of all places, in Marine Park, which does have roads and pedestrians, but isn’t all that heavily trafficked.

It’s hard to say exactly when those experiments will hit city streets. But researchers are itching for the challenge. They say Boston’s winding roadways, treacherous weather, and bold pedestrians offer a unique proving ground.

Boston is apparently becoming a transpo center – remember, we gave the world ZipCar – because the next company on the list, Bridj, is also all about the transpo. “Bridj is an Uber-like service that provides bus rides on demand in Boston, Kansas City, and Washington D.C.” It’s expanding to a number of other cities with its on-demand bus services. But they’re also getting into online retail for “common household items.” And those items will, in the not too distant future, be dropped off on your doorstep by robots (ground-based, not drones). Oh, yes, and they’ll be experimenting with self-driving buses.

Biogen, which is the biggest biotech company in the state, made the eye-on list because the Globe thinks it will either have to grow its drug pipeline through acquisition, or get bought out by some Big Pharma outlook. Because that’s what happens to Massachusetts biotechs. Anyway you look at it, those of us of a certain age have plenty of reason to root for Biogen to succeed. In a few years, they’ll be putting their Alzheimer’s treatment in front of the FDA.

Millennium Partners, the developers, are headquartered in NYC, not Boston. But they cast a mighty big shadow in these here parts, as they’re in on a good portion of the high-end residential/mixed use buildings that have sprung up in Boston over the last decade or so, most recently the luxe condo building that went up on the old Filene’s site. I walk by there a couple of times a week, and almost got run over by a Bentley doing a dog drop off the other day. (Some days, I really do miss the old, dumpy Boston.) What Millennium is taking on next is the development of the site of an old, hideous garage. The big problem they’re working through now is the Boston Common Shadow Law, which – blessedly – limits how many hours a day a new building can cast a shadow on the Boston Common.

When I was reno-ing my condo last year, and getting into the finishing touches, it was sure true that Wayfair, they got just what I need. While their revenue is on the increase, so are its net losses. I’d hate to see Wayfair fail. After all, I never know when I’m going to get a 2 a.m. jones for another pillow, or the sudden urge to switch out the toothbrush holders.

The last thing I think of when I think Boston business is agriculture. But there it is, Indigo Agriculture, mixing it up in the old Hood milk plant in Charlestown, where they’re “trying to coax bacteria and fungi to produce supercharged versions of everyday plants. If they succeed, farmers could begin harvesting crops that require less water and fewer pesticides, all without having to mess with a plant’s DNA.” Big Ag and Boston really don’t compute, but, among other things Indigo has done is plant “more than 50,000 acres of a drought-resistant cotton earlier this year [2016].” Not, of course, in Charlestown, but nonetheless a cotton-pickin’ surprise, if ever.

Quantopian is a “crowd-sourced investment platform.” Brainiac quants submit their algorithms, and, if they work out, the brainiacs get a cut of the returns. Mostly, they’ve been investing their own money (i.e., money from their backers) to test out the algorithms, but they will be looking to become money managers to outside clients this year. You first.

Just in case Wayfair goes bust, we can still get the household goodies we lust after at HomeGoods, which is part of the TJX empire. (Locals still shake their heads that TJX is the spawn of the old Zayre chain, a real cheapo-depot that was the anchor store of the shopping “plaza” in my neighborhood.) Unlike a lot of brick and mortar retailers, TJX (which includes Marshalls and TJ Maxx) is doing just fine.

“Retail experts say TJX’s consistently strong performance shows consumers are still willing to abandon their online shopping carts and venture into stores if the deals — and merchandise quality — are worth the effort.”

Don’t you just love a bargain? I sure do. I graze Marshalls and TJ Maxx occasionally, but I’d really love to see a HomeGoods sprout up in walking distance.

The last company on the watch list is the Neighborhood Health Plan/Partners HealthCare, Somerville. Partners is the major healthcare system in these parts. (It includes Mass General, which is “my” community hospital.) Neighborhood Health Plan provides insurance for hundreds of thousands of Medicaid recipients. And loses millions of dollars in the process. This coming year, they’ll be looking to bring in some commercial members in hopes of offsetting some of their Medicaid losses. I can’t imagine much that’s more mind-boggling than how to make healthcare insurance work better. Here’s hoping that 2017 is a beautiful day in the neighborhood for Neighborhood.

Anyway, those are the companies that the Boston Globe is keeping their eye on in 2017. Me, I’ll probably forget all about them – unless I get run over an autonomous vehicle that goes rogue. Or decide that I need a better looking desk lamp. 

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