The Town of Chelmsford in Middlesex County is near Boston yet distant enough to have many charms that make it the perfect blend of past and present. The town was incorporated in 1655 and is named after Chelmsford in Essex, England. It retains its beautiful feel to this day as it embraces the future.
The Town of Chelmsford was twice designated one of Money Magazine’s list of one hundred best places to live and is known for its outstanding schools, scenic trails and parks, arts and culture, and many established and new businesses.
It is also a growing hub for biotechnology, medical diagnostics, defense, and high-technology industries including robotics and advanced medical device manufacturing and welcomes a range of industries. One of these specialty businesses is AutoGuide.
AutoGuide is a respected manufacturer of technologically advanced mobile robots used by companies like automotive giant Toyota. It opened a new research and development (R&D) facility in Chelmsford last year. “AutoGuide located their R&D in Chelmsford specifically because of our proximity to a talented workforce that’s continually available through all the advanced college institutions in the area,” said Director of Business Development Lisa Marrone.
“Engineering-driven, the staff for AutoGuide uses their testing facility to design and program robots that will handle the repetitive work of moving heavy loads of auto parts around a large manufacturing facility. The robots designed in Chelmsford are constructed and manufactured in Kentucky across from the automobile production plants. The cost efficiencies of using intellectual talent in Chelmsford to align with the hardware production right next to the auto assembly in Kentucky creates a win-win for AutoGuide.”
Other advanced industries, such as Endeavor Robotics, are proud to open operations in the Town of Chelmsford. Endeavor (now part of the FLIR Government and Defense Business Unit’s Unmanned Systems and Integrated Solutions division) is the world’s leading manufacturer of battle-tested unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), delivering more than seven thousand robots to over fifty-five countries. It has partnered with defense forces in the United States and internationally, as well as with law enforcement and industrial and energy users.
The company has been a robot supplier to the U.S. Army and other American military services since 2002, and its robots have defeated thousands of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) across the globe. This January, Endeavor Robotics secured a five-year indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract, worth up to $32.4 million, with the United States Army. The contract will see the company modernize and maintain the robot platforms acquired by the army.
“We’re pleased to win this opportunity to help the U.S. Army keep its UGV inventory at an optimum state of readiness,” said Tom Frost, General Manager, FLIR Unmanned Ground Systems, in a release. “Upgrading robots with the latest technology will allow for more interoperability among systems, greater autonomy and control and an enhanced operator experience for America’s soldiers who rely on our products to save lives.”
“We seem to have a robotics cluster here in Chelmsford,” said Community Development Director Evan Belansky, noting that Endeavor is a spin-off that was formerly iRobot Corporation’s defense and security unit. “So a lot of our high-tech, highly-skilled businesses are all really driven towards the talented workforce that’s in and around Chelmsford. And some of that is happening just by our transportation routes, our workforce housing, and the overall location of Chelmsford to Boston. We are less than a half hour to Boston.”
The area also has the University of Massachusetts Lowell, north of Boston, a mid-sized national public research university which has laboratories that companies can use, so they can focus more on developing the workforce, researching, designing, and more, without having to spend millions of dollars on equipment.
The town is home to major medical-related employers such as the Zoll Medical Corporation, which has had a presence in the area since 2003. Because of Zoll Medical’s great confidence in the area, the business purchased its campus on Mill Road near Route 3 and the Interstate 495 exchange late last year for $35.3 million.
Zoll is behind a variety of medical technologies and software for resuscitation and acute critical care. The company’s solutions include defibrillators and monitors, automated cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), ventilators, cardiac monitors, and the ZOLL LifeVest, a unique wearable defibrillator used for patients risking sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).
Zoll has doubled its footprint in just over fifteen years and continues to attract skilled talent from areas surrounding Boston and southern New Hampshire.
Existing businesses such as Zoll Medical, 3M, and Endeavor Robotics are already in the recently rebranded Chelmsford Cross Roads at Rte. 129 – 600 acres, highlighted by a mixed-use zoning overlay. Last year saw the arrival of the new corporate headquarters of First Light Diagnostics.
The company is a leader in the development of diagnostic tests to detect life-threatening pathogens in just minutes, saving lives and money in the process. First Light Diagnostics moved to Chelmsford Cross Roads and is one of almost 280 businesses in the newly rezoned area, which has seen $65 million in private development and allows for restaurants, entertainment, hotels, housing, indoor recreation, and companies.
This is more than an area for businesses to expand or relocate; Chelmsford Cross Roads is truly emerging as a place to live, work, and play. “That’s what we are attempting to do, and that’s what the market demands,” stated Chelmsford Economic Development Commission (CEDC) Chairman Donald Van Dyne. “That’s one of the many advantages of Chelmsford is that we are very responsive to the market. And because we are well-coordinated, we can quickly respond to the market.”
In addition to advanced manufacturing, the CEDC is attracting complementary industries. Van Dyne says a developer recently expressed an interesting in providing quick service dining; rather than wait, the CEDC is taking the request to upcoming town meetings so the developer can design a project around this area.
The CEDC is actively working with the State and a consultant and putting together site readiness plans and marketing studies for Chelmsford Cross Roads at Rte. 129. “This will tell us where Chelmsford fits into the region, and that will then help us to show what we have, the characteristic where we are strong, and our great location,” said Van Dyne, adding that the town also benefits from great transportation and plenty of available parking.
According to Marrone, the ultimate vision for Chelmsford Cross Roads at Rte. 129 is not only to bring in more businesses but also to see the creation of a vibrant mixed-use business park, where all the tenants are supporting each other. The town itself is supporting Chelmsford Cross Roads and ensuring it receives services.
“My role was created with the specific intention to support the Chelmsford Cross Roads at 129,” she said, “so the immediate and long-term vision is to fill-up and recruit empty spaces. That creates a park that is very successful and has its own identity and speaks for itself. We are hoping to create a consortium or connection between tenants of the park as well, so we have been working really hard to engage with the property owners as well as the existing tenants. Some of this is happening for a grant we were awarded from the state, and that’s been like us to create some new connections within the park and build relationships and partnerships with those property owners, so we all work on this as a team together.”
While her position was made to support the Crossroads project, her greater role is performing “outreach specific to the business community to ensure that their needs are met and that there’s anything else that we can be doing more or differently for them to create stability and vibrancy, as well as being an outreach spokesperson to provide our available spaces.” Van Dyne praised Marrone and the great benefit she has brought to the town by coordinating with external stakeholders.
This is a growing center for technology and medical-related industries, and the Town of Chelmsford also has the distinction of being designated BioReady by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. Middlesex County is one of the top five regions for nanotechnology-related businesses, research, and education.
A BioReady designation of bronze, silver, gold or platinum enables towns and cities in the State of Massachusetts to market themselves to companies in biotechnology wishing to expand or relocate. “We recently moved up to a gold status for biotech rating, and we’ve taken some initial steps towards working on the highest rating possible: platinum,” said Marrone.
The town is also working on a branding and logo campaign which includes a detailed website geared towards developers, investors, and realtors. The site will promote available square footage and provide demographic information to help others understand the workforce and area’s educational institutions, housing, livability, tax incentives, workforce training funds, and more. “It will have anything a developer or person moving into the area needs to know,” says Marrone. It is projected to come online in late spring or early summer.
The business-friendly Town of Chelmsford has many opportunities and is flexible and able to assist with zoning and other areas. A new permitting guide is coming out soon to help businesses understand exactly what to expect before they begin.
Van Dyne says the Chelmsford Economic Development Commission works brings all of the boards together. He is also a member of the Chelmsford Planning Board and said there is a strong connection between the two.
“Oftentimes, when a project comes before the town, it drops on the EDC’s table,” he says. “So we see the project, and we are then able to work with either the applicant or developer through the Team, and we can champion the project toward other boards. That’s one of the advantages that anyone working with Chelmsford has, is it we are well-coordinated, and the boards are working together in the effort to bring economic development to Chelmsford.”