Rich in history, the Town of Chelmsford is a picturesque place where the past seamlessly integrates with the present. Named for Chelmsford, England, this venerable Massachusetts town was incorporated in 1655. Long ago, Chelmsford’s economy was based on farming, limestone quarrying, and lumber mills; almost 370 years later, Chelmsford is known for quality of life, education, and business-friendly thinking.
With multiple partners working for the benefit of the town, residents, job seekers, and existing and new businesses, one of the most appropriate ways to describe Chelmsford is as a partnership.
More than a place where interested businesses are just handed a ‘welcome package’ and sent on their way, the Town of Chelmsford works nonstop with local bodies and institutions – including MassHire, UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College – on job creation and retention, and on education and other initiatives.
Many of these initiatives focus on those industries that will create sought-after jobs, such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and information technology positions.
The role of business development
For almost four years, Chelmsford’s Director of Business Development, Lisa L. Marrone, has played a pivotal role in the town’s success.
That said, she is quick to recognize others for their hard work and initiatives, including Tom Clark, Corporate Education Business Coordinator at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell); Judith Burke, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement at Middlesex Community College; and Peter Farkas, Executive Director at the MassHire Greater Lowell Workforce Board.
“Partnership is what really drives the success of the business for what I do at the local level, and they are regional entities,” she says of Clark, Burke, and Farkas, and their respective institutions. “I can’t do it without them.”
Attractive to young, college-educated graduates, Chelmsford has a population of about 35,000. Owing to a higher level of educational attainment, the town works in coordination with UMass Lowell on a broad offering of platforms, including continuing education and persons seeking to refresh their education.
It’s all part of Chelmsford’s noted friendliness to business, Clark says. “We do specifically speak to workforce development. The work we do is about working with all the businesses in the area, and identifying workforce needs.”
Since workforce development means different things to different partners, Clark welcomes approaches by businesses outlining their needs, or he talks to companies asking what they require. In all cases, it comes down to communication.
Instead of fitting business needs into predetermined boxes, a conversation could result in the delivering of a tailor-made educational program. This could include everything from non-credit courses to three to six courses comprising specific agreed subject matter for employees to become proficient in, all the way to degree-granting programs.
Not all business development needs are the same, and they vary considerably depending on structure, and factors such as the type of business and workforce demographics.
“When it comes to customized training, it is about having those in-depth conversations, and identifying industries,” says Clark. “And sometimes it’s not ‘industry’, but what a segment of an organization needs.”
Launched in August of 2018, MassHire – formerly known as the Greater Lowell Workforce Development Board – represents a unified workforce-system branch of the Massachusetts Workforce Development System, and a place where job seekers and companies looking for employees can connect.
There are 16 local workforce development regions in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and each region has a workforce board. With the strength of 29 one-stop career centers transforming into MassHire Career Centers, the state’s commitment to job seekers and businesses is strong, effective, and unremitting.
“In each region, there’s at least one career center that works with both businesses and job seekers,” says Peter Farkas of MassHire, which cooperates widely with employers, industry, and job-hunters. “We like to think we’re demand-driven. Everything we’re doing is reacting to the demands of businesses, whether to its current needs, or to pipeline developments.” This includes assisting with résumé development, working on training grants to meet needs, and retraining/credentials for entry-level and middle-skill jobs to get people back into the labor force.
“There are a lot of community partners seeing what the needs of businesses are, and how we – through the public workforce development system – can meet the needs of business. And by doing that, we’re helping people get jobs.”
Like the rest of America, the State of Massachusetts has had to deal with the legacy of COVID-19. At the height of the pandemic, the local unemployment rate was approximately 18 percent. Most affected were lower-wage earners, the less educated, and those in fields such as retail and hospitality, where working from home was not feasible.
Thankfully, unemployment has now dropped to between four and five percent. Yet the need for retraining remains strong, with some of the workforce investigating other career choices. MassHire is there to get people back into the workforce.
Middlesex Community College
With workforce training, there is some overlap between MassHire, and Judith Burke’s role at Middlesex Community College. Marrone, in her role as Director of Business Development, often sees Burke as the first introduction to a business at the local level.
“I’m bringing forward the message and resources that are available to a business that they may not know otherwise,” she says, of her role in sharing information about MassHire, and using it as part of a welcome kit to new businesses. In Chelmsford, many resources are free or low cost, with the Middlesex Community writing grants for workforce training funds. Says Marrone, “I think the work we are doing is really valued by the business community.”
The upshot is that, for over 30 years, Middlesex has enthusiastically worked with local employers to educate and train thousands of employees in hundreds of businesses, industries, and municipalities throughout the 21 cities and towns of Middlesex County.
“Our goal is to provide the educational and training tools they need to make the best use of their most important assets – their employees – while improving their competitiveness in a global economy,” says Burke.
Representing a diverse student population, Middlesex Community College offers many academic programs, community education and training, corporate education, and more.
“Degree programs, certificates, career development and more are just a few of the offerings to support a talented and strong workforce,” says Burke. “We are committed to civic engagement through the power of partnerships, including the ‘Cross Roads at Route 129’ employers and their workforce development and training needs.”
Welcome to “The Cross Roads at Route 129”
One of the growing areas for businesses in Chelmsford is the Cross Roads at Route 129. A 660-acre business center with remarkable potential, the Cross Roads is an ideal place to locate, develop, and build a business.
With over 70 existing properties already in place, the Cross Roads is home to world-class businesses such as Zoll Medical, Comcast Cable, Brooks Automation, Axis Communications, The Element of Boston/Chelmsford and many others. From its ideal location with direct access to Route 3, Route 495 and the town center, it is located just 30 miles from Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Farkas says that Route 129 – being in Greater Lowell and readily accessible by transportation – is ideal for workers getting to and from their places of employment. “[Our location] is very beneficial when it comes to workforce development – when people are looking for jobs,” he says. “It’s huge.”
In just the past two-and-a-half years, the Cross Roads has seen its vacancy rate cut in half. Owing to its multi-story office structure, one of the key business sectors the area is attracting is life-sciences.
And just recently, the Cross Roads received a commitment from Pressed Café, a popular restaurant chain offering healthy all-day breakfasts, smoothies, raw juices and tonics, coffees and more. The Pressed Café — which will feature a drive-thru — will open later this year or early next.
Among the new businesses arriving in Chelmsford along Route 129 are dataCon, which names ballistic missile defense as its key business segment; Music Elements (offering musical education); plant-based Four Seasons Greenery; and Incompass Human Services. Others choosing to call Chelmsford home include global business venture company Triton Systems and ThermoFisher Scientific, a part of the town’s growing life sciences business segment.
Know your nanotechnology
Designated BioReady by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, Middlesex County remains one of the top five regions for nanotechnology-related businesses, education and research. While acknowledging that UMass Lowell may not have all the answers in nanoscience, Corporate Education Business Coordinator Clark says they know people who do.
“UMass Lowell is not necessarily going to be everything to everybody,” he says, “but we do know that Peter has resources, we know that Lisa has resources, and I think when you look at the combined synergy of the region, we are a very educated region, and a region that values education. And I think that’s part of our mission here at UMass Lowell. We want the Commonwealth to realize we’re here.”
In July of last year amid the pandemic, when most educational delivery went virtual, UMass Lowell was honored for its inclusive educational culture by a Blackboard Catalyst Award.
Presented by global educational technology leader Blackboard Inc., the award recognized the University’s efforts to ensure that “students of all abilities have equal and ready access to the tools and instruction they need to succeed, both in their professional lives and as individuals engaged in their communities.”
For Clark, the award was a validation of UMass Lowell’s commitment to education, and its offering of online programs since 1996. “That goes to show that while nobody wanted this pandemic to happen, were we prepared for it? Absolutely,” says Clark.
While the transition to online learning hasn’t always been easy, UMass Lowell was recognized as being on the front end of leveraging technology, and being fully inclusive of many learners, especially the differently abled and those with disabilities.
“The amount of innovation that is happening in this region is unbelievable,” says Clark. “I think some people tend to look at it as, ‘Oh, that was just a response to the pandemic.’ We’ve been doing this work for literally decades. That motivation to be on the front end, to be at the cutting edge, is why you see industries like nanotech and manufacturing coming to this area. It’s because they value what we have to offer – people who are hungry to learn and forward-thinking.”