By Dominique Cantelme
From the May/June 2015 issue
Massachusetts is the 14th most populous state in the U.S. with approximately 6,745,408 people and a growing pool of available workers. It has the nation’s sixth highest GDP per capita and currently is an economic leader in finance, IT, renewable energy, defense and maritime trade.
According to figures released by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Massachusetts unemployment rate is slowly decreasing. Its recent decline to 4.8 percent this past March is the lowest the Commonwealth has seen in six years and lower than the national average. In March alone, the State saw an increase of 5,500 jobs in the health and education sector; 4,900 in hospitality and leisure; 1,400 in manufacturing; and 1,000 in professional, scientific and business services (to name a few).
The Bay State has definitely done the legwork to help make this happen. One possible enticement may be the ReadyMass 100 initiative. Designed to promote site expansion opportunities for businesses, the initiative communicates to both in-state and out-of-state companies that Massachusetts has an inventory of properties that meet the needs of businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors—and they are ready right now. MassEcon developed this initiative as part of a collaboration with the Commonwealth, regional economic development groups and the real estate community.
The ReadyMass 100 list includes properties from all corners of the state.
“By providing companies with an opportunity to interact on our newly redesigned online portal, they are able to see at a glance the great places to grow within the state,” said Susan Houston, executive director of MassEcon.
A team of real estate experts in connection with MassEcon’s state partners evaluated each of the ReadyMass 100 properties, which include both building and land sites. These are certified for immediate occupancy or development, and have met key criteria relating to infrastructure, permitting, size and readiness.
Economic development groups such as MassEcon and MassDevelopment are other contributing factors to economic success and job growth in Massachusetts. MassEcon is Massachusetts’ private sector partner in promoting business growth in the State while MassDevelopment offers finance programs and real estate development services that support economic growth, development and investment across all sectors of the Massachusetts economy: public and private; commercial, industrial and residential; and nonprofit.
While there are a number of great locations to start or grow a business in the Commonwealth, here are a couple of our favorites.
CITY OF MARLBOROUGH: EMERGING LIFE SCIENCES HUB
The City of Marlborough—one of Massachusetts’ fastest growing communities—has recently emerged as a robust regional life sciences hub. Since 2013, when the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) upgraded Marlborough to a Platinum BioReady Community and named it “a key biotechnology hub in the Commonwealth,” the city’s economic development has swiftly and consistently outperformed its regional neighbors.
Conveniently located at the Crossroads of New England, with direct access to four major highways, Marlborough has built its reputation as a premium location for businesses of all sizes, as well as a city that offers ample benefits to its residents. More than 40 companies have moved to or expanded in the city since 2012, providing an increasing number of new jobs for its population of nearly 40,000 people.
Together, elected officials, businesses and the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) have helped the local economy expand significantly over the past three years. With an overall commercial vacancy rate of just 14 percent, and an office vacancy rate of about 18 percent, Marlborough saw nearly $2.5 million in new growth over the past year alone.
“The commercial real estate revival underway in Marlborough is a beautiful thing. What’s happening now in the city is nothing short of a comeback story, one that’s still being written,” writes Craig Douglas, Managing Editor of the Boston Business Journal, which named Marlborough’s economic turnaround among its top five real estate stories of 2014.
The recent flocking of advanced tech and biotech companies to Marlborough can be attributed to the city’s variety of relatively low-priced commercial spaces and vast pool of highly educated employees. Among the myriad of businesses that have made Marlborough home are industry giants Boston Scientific, SanDisk, GE Healthcare and Quest Diagnostics. The latter two together received more than $4 million in state and local tax incentives to create nearly 2,000 jobs.
Since GE Healthcare Life Sciences announced it plans to move its U.S. headquarters to Marlborough, the company has gone on one of the regional industry’s largest hiring sprees. GE hopes to fill nearly 400 new positions and employ close to 700 people at its new campus, which is slated to open this summer.
“Our new Marlborough facility will position us for continued innovation and competition, close to industry-leading talent, customers and world-class academic and medical institutions,” said GE Healthcare Life Sciences President and CEO Kieran Murphy.
GE Healthcare will occupy about 210,000 square feet in a building that it will share with the newly opened 200,000-square-foot Quest Diagnostics’ regional “Lab of The Future.” The two companies are the anchor tenants of the 110-acre Marlborough Hills site—a mixed-use development, which, when completed, will boast a 164-room Hilton Garden Inn, a 350-unit Avalon Bay residential community and up to 75,000 square feet of retail space.
Boston Scientific is yet another major biotech player that recently settled in its global headquarters in Marlborough. The company already has launched a number of new devices to market, and made a multi-million- and a multi-billion-dollar acquisition this year.
The innovative ReWalk Robotics, which manufactures an exoskeleton that puts paralyzed patients on their feet, also is among those seeking success in the city. Last year, the Marlborough-based company received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to sell its device in the country and launched a successful IPO to fund further research.
In addition to continuing to attract an influx of biotech companies and lower the unemployment rate—currently around 4 percent—Marlborough also is working to bring the city to its full potential through rezoning. At the close of 2014, city officials approved the creation of a new 50-acre zoning district in the downtown area. The key changes included allowing mixed-use developments by right, relaxing parking requirements and increasing building height limits—all measures aimed at encouraging business growth and pedestrian traffic in the area.
Attracted by the new zoning laws, close to 50 developers toured the city in March, in an effort to assess the long-term investment potential of Marlborough’s downtown. MEDC Executive Director Tim Cummings, who led the group, said the developers were impressed by the city’s economic momentum and encouraged by its business-friendly environment.
“We have targeted downtown Marlborough as a growth district for mixed-use development,” Cummings said. “It is our hope that the private sector will respond to the new zoning changes and bring forward proposals that will continue to build upon our great Main Street streetscape.”
In the coming year, Marlborough has made numerous plans for the city, aimed at enhancing the local business environment, lifestyle and infrastructure. The city continues to promote economic growth through the creation of new jobs and the migration of new companies to the area.
Mayor Arthur Vigeant spoke for businesses and residents alike this year, when he confidently stated, “Marlborough has never been stronger.”
DEVENS: A COMMUNITY OF PREMIER OPPORTUNITY
Devens, a 4,400-acre mixed-use community in central Massachusetts, is home to nearly 90 organizations that include manufacturing, biopharmaceutical and other high-tech businesses. More than 4,000 people work in Devens. With the new Red Tail Heights property, first-class office users have an opportunity to locate their corporate headquarters in this regional economic hub.
Companies are attracted to the community’s expedited and streamlined permitting, highway access, proximity to Boston and infrastructure. The Red Tail Heights parcel, at 18.5 acres and fully serviced by all utilities, can accommodate buildings of up to 225,000 square feet. Red Tail Heights also takes advantage of one of Devens’ oft-overlooked gems for local businesses: its open space. The site overlooks the 18th hole and clubhouse of Red Tail Golf Club, an award-winning championship course that has been designated as the first Audubon International Signature Sanctuary golf course in the region. Red Tail Heights also has views of Robbins Pond and abuts miles of walking trails.
The property appeals to first-class office users; MassDevelopment, the economic-development agency charged with the community’s redevelopment, continues to market other sites in the area to medical device, life science, biopharmaceutical, technology and defense companies. Bristol-Myers Squibb is one of the largest businesses in Devens, employing about 400 workers to develop the biotechnology drug Orencia to battle rheumatoid arthritis. The company invested about $750 million in the original facility and currently is building a $250 million expansion, which will add 300 R&D employees. Bristol-Myers Squibb expects to finish that construction later this year. Other life sciences companies in the community include Johnson Matthey Pharma Services, Bio-Techne and PCI Synthesis.
Other industries prevalent in Devens are professional, scientific and technical services; manufacturing; and warehousing. Businesses such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson Matthey, Patterson Veterinarian Supply and Quiet Logistics—an order fulfillment company—contributed to much of the community’s economic growth in the past two years. Between 2012 and 2014, Devens organizations hired more than 800 workers, and the economic activities of private and nonprofit Devens entities supported more than 4,100 Massachusetts jobs through indirect and induced spending.
The area’s diverse and highly skilled workforce also attracts companies to Devens. MassDevelopment has signed an agreement with Devens Village Green LLC, a local development group, to build up to 124 units of housing in the community’s Grant Road neighborhood. These homes will help meet increasing demand for local housing given the hundreds of people who have started working in Devens in the last two years. Grant Road is about two miles from Red Tail Heights, an easy, stress-free commute for employees of any company that chooses to locate in Devens.
Devens serves as a model of successful military base reuse. The Fort Devens closure in 1996 eliminated more than 7,000 jobs, including almost 2,900 civilian ones. The 67 private businesses, 18 nonprofits and nine government entities in Devens have made up for that civilian job loss and wages; in 1991, civilian and military payroll totaled $178 million. In 2012, employee wages reached $300 million.
Thanks to $2.2 billion in investment from residents, government and businesses, more than half of the community’s developable acres are sold or leased. With elevated views of the golf course and the surrounding forest, proximity to local amenities and room for expansion, Red Tail Heights presents a premier opportunity for the next business looking to call Devens home.