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Worcester Ranked Most Competitive Metro in New England

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Worcester beat out six other New England metro areas in new competitiveness rankings released by Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) comparing job growth since 2010.

The area was boosted by better-than-expected job growth in several sectors, earning Worcester the 50th spot on the list composed of the 100 most populous metro areas in the country.

While Worcester's growth was not stellar, the city and its suburbs still outpaced the other major metro areas in New England in its economic recovery. The Boston-Cambridge-Quincy area came in at 60th, Springfield was 74th, the Hartfords in Conn. were 75th, and Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn. was 78th. The New Haven-Milford area of Conn. ranked 85th, and Providence-New Bedford-Fall River rounded out the region's metros at 94th in EMSI's rankings.

Where Worcester Gained the Most

The rankings look at which metro areas are becoming more competitive by gaining a larger share of jobs being created. EMSI's regional competitiveness, or shift-share, analysis is based off how much of regional growth is accounted for by national growth in a specific industry, how much the overall growth of the national economy affected the local industry and how much the change is due to factors or characteristics unique to that metro area.

EMSI Senior Editor Joshua Wright said Worcester's most regionally competitive industries were corporate, subsidiary, and regional managing offices, where the area gained an estimated 1,263 jobs more than expected, and supermarkets, which posted 791 more jobs than expected. Research and development in biotechnology added 643 more jobs than expected, elementary and secondary schools secured 551 more jobs than expected,
and private households contributed 520 more jobs than expected.

"The growth in these sectors helped offset greater-than-expected declines in manufacturing, a few healthcare industries, government, and other sectors," Wright said.

Meanwhile, Boston has taken a greater hit to employment at private colleges and universities, and the area has lost jobs in corporate, subsidiary, and regional managing offices, precisely where Worcester has seen the biggest gains.

Providence has performed poorly across the board in recent years, and Springfield has fared only slightly better, said Wright.

"Like Providence, it has lost more jobs than expected in general medical and surgical hospitals. And like Boston, it's lost more than expected in private colleges and universities."

Victor Matheson, Associate Professor of Economics at Holy Cross, said that New England as a whole has recovered slightly slower than some other areas of the country, partly because the housing boom never took as great of a hold on the region as it did elsewhere. That benefitted New England when the housing market went bust since it didn't have as far to fall, but, at the same time, that has meant less of an economic boost as the housing market comes back on line.

The key to the growth measured by EMSI's competitiveness rankings, said Matheson, has been the recession. Rhode Island was the worst hit in the region, and is therefore having the most difficulty recovering as well.

"Worcester is in fact right at zero, essentially no change in their employment versus expected employment," he said. "It just hasn't gained jobs any faster or slower than we would normally expect."

Competitive Advantages for Businesses

Michael Holbrook, Senior Management Counselor and Training Director for the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network Central Regional Office, housed at Clark University, said that Worcester provides a number of competitive advantages to businesses looking to relocate, including a higher quality of life at a lower cost for employees and comparatively low costs for real estate and capital improvements.

"We also have 12-plus colleges and universities in Worcester, so we're graduating every year thousands of highly-educated potential workers."

This substantially higher number of institutions of higher learning compared to cities of similar size, such as Hartford, Providence and Springfield, provides Worcester with a substantial advantage. Holbrook said Quinsigamond Community College has special training programs to prepare students to work in laboratories that make up the region's booming biotechnology industry.

UMass Medical School has an expanding research facility in Worcester, and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences has plans for a major downtown expansion as well.

"That's breathing life into the city," said Holbrook.

There are also a number of opportunities for businesses locating near Worcester's colleges and universities to collaborate directly with students and faculty. Through the Graduate Management School at Clark, Holbrook and his colleagues offer a consulting project course each year where 12 businesses are selected to pair with a team of four MBA students, who will work with them on a significant business problem.

The course, which provides business owners and entrepreneurs with 400 to 500 hours of free MBA consulting time, has been recognized by the National Association of Small Business Development Centers as a model for best practices.

"We've been doing this for years," said Holbrook.


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