Growing up in the Philippines, Reggie Ramos remembers being about 12 years old when she attended her first protest, grabbing a megaphone and standing on top of a jeepney, the colorful minibus that is the primary form of transportation in her home country.
Ramos believes that moment shaped who she has become today: a fierce advocate for putting people at the center of policy. Back then, Ramos was taking a stand against the presence of a foreign military. Now she’s fighting for better public transit as the new executive director of advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, as T4MA takes on a new mission and identity.
Ramos, 45, has played similar roles before, from national undersecretary of transportation in the Philippines to deputy director of pilots and innovation at the MBTA to director of inclusive public transit at the Institute of Human Centered Design. A lawyer by training, Ramos views high-quality public transportation as a matter of civil rights.
“My background has been working in places where inequity is out of whack,” said Ramos, who took the reins of T4MA in September.
Ramos moved to the Boston area in 2018 to get her master’s degree in public administration at Harvard. She then took a job at the MBTA during Charlie Baker’s administration, and worked on increasing frequency on the Fairmount Line — the only commuter rail route that runs solely within the city of Boston — as well as helping to implement Boston’s first fare-free bus route.
Her recent hiring comes as T4MA, a 13-year-old coalition with roughly 70 member organizations, is being rebooted with help from the Barr Foundation to focus on transportation justice for communities of color, low-income residents, and people with disabilities.
The organization hasn’t had a permanent leader since 2021, when Chris Dempsey left to run for state auditor.
In putting the lived experiences of people at the center of T4MA’s advocacy, Ramos said that means discussions about transportation have to move beyond infrastructure and funding.
“That’s a very radical way of trying to shift our focus,” she said. “How do we get one person to move from Lowell or Lawrence into Boston because they need to work in Boston? And how do we make that speak to the legislators and decision-makers so that their policies are more people-centered?”
Local retailers are wary about holiday sales
The mood was celebratory at the annual luncheon of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts at Bentley University last week. But the holiday sales prediction the association shared that day was anything but.
As it does every year, the association honored several innovative merchants with its “RAMAE” awards. This year, Jordan’s Furniture chief executive Eliot Tatelman gave the keynote speech. The association also released survey results showing that the group predicts a 1-percent increase in holiday shopping sales from the same time a year ago among its small business members. That’s essentially treading water — or maybe even going backward considering their rising expenses. The National Retail Federation, meanwhile, predicts a 3- to 4-percent increase nationwide, but those results include big-box stores and online sellers.
If the Massachusetts prediction comes to pass, it would mirror the anemic holiday sales seen in 2022 when revenue rose only 1.2 percent. Concerns persist about interest rates, inflation, and consumer confidence.
Tatelman, however, offered encouraging words. He stressed the importance of employee retention, as well as customer engagement and experiences.
“Jordan’s is a different level from these small businesses,” association president Jon Hurst said. “But in a smaller version of it, they can all do this in order to survive and thrive.”
Hao has a plan for Mass. economy
National Grid’s “Small Business Impact Initiative” awards event at the Seaport Hotel last Tuesday served as the perfect venue for economic development Secretary Yvonne Hao to preview the state’s upcoming economic plan — and to give new National Grid executive Lisa Wieland some good natured ribbing, on Wieland’s second day on the job.
Each of the 16 award winners received $10,000 grants from National Grid, as part of the utility’s new initiative to help “uplift minority-owned small businesses” across the state. Four organizations selected the winners: Amplify Latinx, the Asian Business Empowerment Council, the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
Hao said the administration will soon release an economic plan with recommendations in three areas: fundamentals (such as housing and transportation), talent (such as keeping more college grads here, and fostering careers for those without college degrees), and sectors (such as life sciences, robotics, and clean-tech). The plan will serve as the foundation for an economic development bill Governor Maura Healey will file early next year.
Hao noted that Wieland had only just joined National Grid the day before, after four years running the Massachusetts Port Authority. To underscore Wieland’s modesty, Hao then told a story about how the two met on a recent trip to Israel.
“Later that day, . . . we were having drinks,” Hao recalled. “Someone asks her, ‘What do you do?’ She was like, “I work at an airport.’ The guy was like, ‘You mean you’re like a baggage handler?’ . . . That is the kind of leader she is. I guarantee you now at National Grid, she’ll be running New England but also when people ask her, she’ll be like, ‘I connect your electricity. I check your meters and things.’”
Moulton brings grim tidings from DC
US Representative Seth Moulton last week offered a sobering depiction of world affairs to the New England Council at his annual visit with the business group. His depiction of life in Congress? Also quite sobering.
The Salem Democrat discussed the challenges posed by the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine, as well as one that could unfold if China invades Taiwan.
“The good news is we have a high functioning Congress to sort it all out,” Moulton quipped sarcastically.
Prescient words, Seth. The following day, two fights almost broke out on Capitol Hill. Representative Tim Burchett, a Republican from Tennessee, claimed he was intentionally elbowed by fellow Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy, the ousted speaker. Burchett reportedly chased after McCarthy, and insulted him. That same day, during a committee hearing, Senator Markwayne Mullin challenged International Brotherhood of Teamsters president Sean O’Brien to a fight, after mentioning O’Brien’s criticisms on social media. The Medford native seemed ready to take Mullin up on the offer, until Senator Bernie Sanders interceded.
Will it get better? Moulton isn’t so sure. Moulton told the New England Council: “As the late John McCain used to say, ‘It’s always darkest before it turns pitch black.’”
The Giant is back
Have you found yourself humming the old Green Giant jingle lately? Thank GYK Antler for the earworm. The marketing agency first started working with B&G Foods in 2021 to develop a new campaign for Green Giant. After a modest rollout last year, the campaign, dubbed “That’s Giant,” began in earnest in September. It’s the first big campaign for the iconic frozen food brand since around the time when B&G acquired it from General Mills eight years ago.
The TV ads are only running on streaming networks, in part because it’s much easier to track effectiveness than with broadcast ads. One spot features a kid dressed in a dinosaur costume, excited to eat some Dino Veggie Tots.
Nicolle Fagan, GYK’s head of account management, said she welcomed the opportunity to work on another legacy brand, much like the Jack Daniel’s account she helped oversee when she was at Arnold along with then-president Pam Hamlin, who now is president of GYK.
Fagan said GYK’s creative team for Green Giant in Boston, led by Cristin Barth, tried to honor Green Giant’s history while making the brand relevant for modern-day consumers. They kept the jingle: “Ho, ho, ho, Green Giant!” The giant doesn’t appear in full, just a CGI green hand. “He is 70 feet tall,” she added, “and we do have to show him in the right proportions.”