Joe Avellone of Wellesly is running for governor.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Gubernatorial candidate Joe Avellone says he has exactly the right skills needed to lead the state into a "new economy."
"I am really running on the basis of my private sector background, which I think is really timely for the problems going forward — namely the new economy and health-care cost control," Avellone said on Wednesday when he spoke in Pittsfield as a guest of the Berkshire Brigades.
"Now, the time is right. My skills are what the state needs."
Avellone is the senior vice president of Parexel, an international biotech company that develops drugs in 52 countries.
He is building his campaign for the state's highest office on education and health-care cost containment, two tasks he feels will help the state compete for jobs.
"In running Parexel, we have a global work force and I see how this work force is educated all around the world. They are very well trained, speak English, ambitious and great employees. I see that Massachusetts needs to compete at that level moving forward for companies to come here," Avellone said. "I now see what the global economy is like because I am in it every day and this is what Massachusetts has to prepare for in order to be competitive."
Avellone came to Massachusetts in 1972 and attended Harvard Medical School. He stayed for his surgical residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital and later earned a master's degree in public administration from Harvard. After working as a surgeon, he started working with health maintenance organizations (HMO) and was hired to head Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
"When I was with Blue Cross in the '90s, that was an effort to form the Blue Cross HMO, which is Blue Cross Blue, to try to move toward some more organized care," Avellone said. "It is almost back to the future because some of these ideas were around back then."
He spent six years there and then started his company, Veritas Medicine, which used the Internet to identify patients for clinical trials. He was recruited seven years ago to head Parexel.
Avellone said he would be the first candidate in decades to run on higher education but says it is imperative because the state needs more of the "middle skills" workers. There are high-tech manufacturers and life science companies out there but those industries require skilled labor, he said.
"I'd like to be the education governor if you will, because that is what we need to build a new economy," Avellone said.
Avellone said the state can't "chase" after the old type of manufacturing. Instead, it needs to focus on workforce development so companies that need a higher skill set will come here.
He wants to focus resources on increasing science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] education in the community and state college environment. The colleges should align themselves closer with emerging industries and produce the right skills, he said.
"There is a lot of new manufacturing and I think manufacturing needs to be part of our future," Avellone said.
As for health care, Avellone has worked with all of the major players and boasts that he understands the complexities of that system. In the last decade, health-care costs have had double-digit increases and Avellone wants to curb that trend.
He supports moving away from "fee for service" and instead focus on preventive and early detection. Listing a multitude of models in other states, Avellone says it "is doable."
"We know how to do it. We have models. But this requires big change and that is going to require a lot of political leadership," he said.
While those two are his key issues, Avellone said he is also very concerned about the environment and the state's infrastructure, which he said has been unattended for 15 years because of the Big Dig. He hopes to create dedicated revenue streams such as a percentage of the gas tax to infrastructure work.
However, Avellone knows his plans would require additional revenue but says a tax increase isn't currently feasible. The economy is still lagging from the recession and Avellone said further recovery will build some space into these investments and curbing the health care costs would allow for more spending.
"This was not the time to have a large tax increase," he said of Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed revenue plan.
But he didn't completely rule out a tax hike. If the economy continues to improve, Avellone said he would call for a tax increase to help generate the additional revenue.
"We're not recovered. We're recovering but we still need help," Avellone said, pointing to the unemployment rate in Pittsfield and North Adams.
As for social issues, he said his "tends to be very progressive." He was a selectman in Wellesley and has particpated in multiple local, state and national campaigns but not as a candidate.
Avellone is one of three Democratic candidates so far contemplating a run in 2014. Donald Berwick and Steve Grossman have both expressed interest in running. Berkwick was a guest
of the Brigades in April and Grossman earlier this year.