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Economic Development: How Did Worcester Do in 2012?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


From Downtown and the Theatre District to Gateway Park and the city's airport, 2012 was a big year for economic development in Worcester. A new report from the City's Executive Office of Economic Development details just how big a year it was for the Commonwealth's second-largest city.

One indication is the number of building permits the city issued last year: a total of 2,854 permits for both residential and commercial renovations and new construction with an estimated value of $178 million. At 2,963, the number of building permits was slightly higher in 2011, but the estimated value was slightly lower at $173 million. 2010 saw 2,600 building permits issued, with an estimated value of $157 million.

Another indication is the number of incorporations in Worcester. According to the Commonwealth, 501 new business entities set up shop in Worcester last year.

"Calendar 2012 was a year of significant new buildings under construction, new businesses opening throughout the City, and new events and activities drawing thousands of Worcester residents," said City Manager Michael O'Brien in a memo to the City Council. "I look forward to the same continued growth and success of our economic development agenda in 2013."

In the report "Economic Development: 2012 Year in Review," Chief Development Officer Timothy McGourthy runs down the City's key development projects as well as business development initiatives. 

"For years this report has provided updates on the progress of some of the most significant economic development projects that are transforming the city's skyline," the report states. "In 2012, many of these projects have materialized and are now contributing to the desired vibrancy and economic activity expected from any major development project."

The Projects

Work on CitySquare continued to move along in 2012. The ceremonial re-opening of Front Street on New Year's Eve preceded the completion of construction on the 214,000-square-foot office building, finished earlier this year, that is the new home of Unum. According to the Economic Development office, Unum is expected to retain more than 600 jobs in the move and add 50 new ones in the process. The new 66,000-square-foot cancer center at St. Vincent Hospital is excepted to be open for business this spring, and renovations were completed in January on an 860-car garage in order to accomodate all the increased traffic.

Over at Gateway Park, the second laboratory/office building was completed in 2012, a $32 million, four-story, 92,000-square-foot affair expected to create up to 140 permanent jobs. The building is currently home to Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives (MBI), the subtenant of Blue Sky Biotech, Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) Biomanufacturing Education and Training Center, WPI's Fire Protection Engineering Department, and the WPI School of Business. Two more life sciences/office buildings are planned for the park.

Worcester's Theatre District, stretching roughly from the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts and its environs to City Hall, was also a focus of attention in 2012, with the Worcester Business Development Corporation (WBDC) producing a master plan for the area.

"A draft of this master plan, which provides an action agenda as well as plans and recommendations to turn the area into a vibrant 18-hour district, has been completed," the report said. "It is paving the way for healthy public discussions with community stakeholders to ensure the complete adoption (and success) of this master plan."

One proposal that has met with substantial resistance in converting the parking lot adjacent to the Worcester Public Library into an ice rink.

When it came to transportation, however, Worcester made big advances on two fronts, namely, rail and air. The completion of the $100 million rail deal with CSX in October 2012 upped the number of commuter rail trains between Boston and Worcester to 16 on weekdays, while at the same time delivering a new rail yard and the jobs that come along with it. Further expansion of the commuter rail lines is expected in the coming months.

Rectrix Aviation, a charter carrier, signed on with the Worcester Regional Airport to make OHR home to its new fixed base operation (FBO). The work on that FBO is expected to create more than 100 new jobs in the process.

Business Development

According to the report, the city's Division of Business Assistance (DBA) provided financial, technical and site search assistance to roughly 487 businesses, property owners and entrepreneurs throughout all of Worcester's varied industries.

The Worcester Business Resource Alliance (WBRA) launched its first networking event last year as well, using Small Business Week as an opportunity to increase awareness about the business development resources available in Worcester through such organizations as the Center for Women and Enterprise, Lutheran Social Services, the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, MLK Jr. Business Empowerment Center, Workforce Central Career Center and others.


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