Unemployment Falls Across Central Mass
Friday, February 17, 2012
Unemployment numbers are falling across Central Massachusetts, thanks largely in part to surging biomedical and biotechnical companies investing in the region.
“In general I think we’re seeing some positive signs. I think the biotech fields, colleges and universities - the whole health care arena is a big arena for us,” said Dick Kennedy, President and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Worcester’s unemployment rate has dropped nearly 2 points from 9.3% of the workforce in February 2011. That number is still above the statewide 6.8%, but many towns within the region have dropped below the state average.
Towns dip below 6%
Recent numbers from the Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce show Holden’s unemployment at 5.2%, down 2 points from last year. Westborough is down to 5%, from 6.3% last year.
Westborough is home to biomedical companies Astra Zeneca and Genzyme. Shrewsbury, which hosts Charles River Laboratories and Valeritas, has an unemployment rate of only 5.3%. But the positive effects of biomedical companies reach beyond the towns that hold their companies. West Boylston has become a bedroom community for biomed employees, and its rate of unemployment has dropped almost 3 points over the past year.
“It’s a strong factor. The demographics in West Boylston and similar communities lend themselves to those new jobs,” said West Boylston Town Administrator Leon A. Gaumond Jr., when asked about the biomed industries.
According to CEO Kevin O’Sullivan, Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives has created 400 new jobs since 2000. More importantly, those jobs do not depend on economic stability and market fluctuations.
“Even in 2009 and 2010, we saw job growth in a very bad economy,” said Pete Abair, of MBI.
Outlook bright for many towns
Scientific and technical services in the Central Massachusetts region are projected to increase at least another 25% by 2018, according to State Government data. Health care and Social Assistance positions are expected to make up 18% of area occupations by 2018.
"As we become more savvy in technology, we become more efficient. We're growing and we're creating opportunities. Our immediate thought is not to cut people, they are always the last thing we look to cut," said Randi Nichols, head of Human Resources at Reliant Medical Group.
Kennedy cited increased confidence in manufacturing sectors, “Some of the manufacturing is seeing very robust sales. They’re a little concerned about the future still, but they’ve brought some people back that were laid off, or working part-time,” he said. But he said diversifying the Worcester economy has been an important change. “We’ve morphed into a different kind of environment,” he said.
Even more importantly for suburban neighborhoods like West Boylston, employed residents translates into better local business.
“When you look at the town of West Boylston, we don’t have a lot of vacancies. Our stores, and the shopping centers we have in town, are full. There’s not a lot of vacant property available,” said Gaumond.
Biomedical industries in Massachusetts are currently receiving about 23% of venture capital investments nation-wide - or what Abair calls, “a big chunk.” He said that number is a good indicator of even more jobs to come.