Investment attraction strategies are crucial if a community hopes to garner the all-essential competitive advantage. These strategies are many, but the ultimate goal is that of showcasing the inimitable attributes of a community – those elements that make it unique and worthy of business investment.
Potential investors need to know that a community is ready and capable of meeting their needs. Some strategies may include an ‘open for business’ climate, efficient transportation infrastructure, land availability, access to a skilled workforce and enticing investment incentives.
Comprising twenty-six square miles, the town of Billerica, Massachusetts, located in Middlesex County, engages in all such strategies. The substantial business interest investments, to date, are proof that this town with a population of 42,000 is well on its way toward further progress and prosperity.
Massachusetts is one of four states designated as part of the Commonwealth and Billerica has a long history stemming back to 1655 when the town was incorporated. Billerica is only twenty miles from the state capital of Boston and, “We’re right next to the city of Lowell,” says Town Manager, John Curran, which is “one of the biggest cities in the Commonwealth.”
John explains that the town is situated near some major highways such as Routes 128 (less than three miles) and 495 (less than two miles) as well as Route 3 which connects to Route 128, all of which connect to Boston. “Billerica is situated right at the apex of route 3 and 495.”
Billerica boasts of a number of renowned companies such as General Electric, Raytheon, Parexel and E Ink along with others engaged in the life sciences, Research and Development, and alternative energy. In addition, Route 3 boasts a number of high-tech companies which are spinoffs of those companies located along route 128.
Lantheus Medical Imaging, for instance, “has a facility right off one of the exits from Route 3,” says Community Development Director, Rob Anderson. “That proximity to a major highway and connectivity north to Lowell and south to Boston makes us a place where businesses can attract the right type of workforce, but still be in a more rural as opposed to urban setting.”
There is commuter rail service from Boston which is “our main pipeline in to the city in southern transportation,” says John. Also offered in the town are bus services provided by the Lowell Regional Transit Authority.
Speaking to the town’s array of diversified industries, Rob indicates that, “We’re very proud of the life science industry in particular.” Recently Merck, the Darmstadt, Germany-based multinational biopharmaceutical company, announced an investment of $70 million to expand its biopharmaceutical facility in Billerica, one of the company’s four hubs for R&D. Merck operates as Emanuel Merck, Darmstadt (EMD) Serono in both the United States and Canada.
The company’s facility in Billerica is, “their North American centre for excellence. They have 550 employees there,” says Rob. “Hopefully they’re going to find a cure for some certain types of cancer at that location,” with plans to “get a shovel in the ground shortly. It’s a pretty big complex.”
Director of Planning, Chris Reilly, adds that Merck approached the town’s Planning Board for approval of their 140,000 square foot R&D expansion and notes that the company is “aggressively expanding in the life sciences innovation area… There are high-tech, high-end research jobs at the cutting edge of cancer research and cancer cures. For us, it’s a really positive development.” EMD Serono has been a longtime corporate resident of Billerica and, “they’ve been really positive about their experience in Billerica,” shares Chris.
The town has also moved forward on numerous solar array projects and SunPower, although smaller in scale, will be the second of two that have been approved for 2019. Through an agreement with Cabot Corporation, which specializes in the chemicals industry and is also located in Billerica, SunPower will be installing a solar parking canopy at Cabot’s Business and Technology Center.
“Our hope is that within the next few years, Billerica will be recognized for its commitment to clean energy and the amount of mega-watts produced by those solar projects… We’re seeing more of this type of project because the cost of energy is a huge cost for these corporations. We’re actively supporting those kinds of projects where they can reduce their costs by capitalizing on clean energy.” The SunPower project is anticipated to begin in the summer of 2019.
With respect to a readily available skilled workforce, the nearby city of Boston provides a plethora of educational options. The University of Massachusetts (UMass) has a number of campuses throughout the Commonwealth and one of the largest is located in Lowell, a leading national research university. “So there is a big source of talent there,” says John. Adjacent to Billerica is the town of Bedford with its Middlesex Community College which has “a skilled workforce as well,” along with the Greater Lowell Technical High School.
Billerica has established a number of partnerships to foster the town’s economic development such as that found with the non-profit Middlesex 3 Coalition, which is composed of nine Middlesex County communities and private industries located along Route 3. This Coalition has members that include regional stakeholders as well as those engaged in finance, real estate development and the educational and medical communities. “The biggest partnership we have is with Middlesex 3,” says John. “The goal is to further economic development along the Route 3 corridor.”
Rob also shares that, “We have a very strong relationship with the Massachusetts Office of Business Development (MOBD). They know they can pick up the phone and call Billerica and get the answers that they need.”
The MOBD “is in charge of the state’s tax incentive program,” he explains, relating that the town had a project with E Ink, leaders in e-Paper display technology, who located in Billerica’s technology park after being recruited from the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts using the state’s tax incentive program. “These are high-tech jobs that can actually be filled by our residents and people who can commute in to the town.”
Assisting companies in both relocating and expanding into Billerica remains a priority for the town. As a 43D community (a local expedited permitting program), Billerica can more readily accommodate approved permits. This streamlined permitting through the planning board enables companies to “get up and operational as quickly as possible,” says Rob. “Sometimes municipalities don’t work at the speed of business and businesses have schedules and timelines. One of the things we’re most proud about is how adaptable we are and how quickly we can get people through the process.”
Speaking about the town’s business parks available for potential business interests, John explains that, “We have several mixed-use overlays that we’ve been able to get done. We’re trying to do some more… We’re looking to see that happens with the government legislation on zoning.” He continues that it can be a challenge “to help the public understand the value of mixed-use development and how it promotes quality growth and helps mitigate negative impacts like traffic by diversifying traffic flow.”
Aside from the multi-sector range of economic opportunities in Billerica, the town is especially proud of its quality of life. “The people of Billerica love Billerica,” shares Rob. “I don’t think that, given a choice, the majority of people would live somewhere else. It’s a hardy New England feel which is sometimes hesitant to change. But the town is changing.” These changes include $176 million to be invested in a new high school, a multimillion dollar project with 211 high-end luxury apartments being planned, and infrastructure development, which continues on an annual basis.
Chris explains that a new master plan has been adopted and even with updates, “People didn’t want to change a lot about Billerica because they like it the way that it is, in a lot of ways.”
He sums up by expressing, “We’re in a very tough, competitive region… We’re looking for higher and better uses; we’re looking for redevelopment opportunities. We’re not looking to really fundamentally change the town. We think we present a very positive environment for companies that understand the quality of life issues that Billerica puts on the table.”