Economic Development Requires Ongoing Effort – It Does Not Happen by Accident

October 13, 2010 – Every year, when Marlborough residents receive their property tax bills, they receive one of the best bargains in Metrowest.  The average residential property tax bill in Marlborough is hundreds of dollars less than bills for similar properties in surrounding towns.   And while our neighbors pay additional fees for trash pick up and school bus transportation those services are paid for within our property taxes. 

 These benefits to our residents are no accident; they are directly tied to the vibrant and diverse commercial properties that are located throughout our city.  And that commercial base is more at risk today than it has been in a generation. 

 I have spent the last twenty years of my life working in economic development.  As mayor of Marlborough it was my number one priority to replace the twenty percent of our tax base that was lost when Digital Equipment Corporation closed over twenty facilities in Marlborough. We worked to bring in Rockport Shoes, Fidelity Investments and the Solomon Pond Mall and to help Ken’s Foods expand its manufacturing operation.    

Over the next ten years I served as a senior economic development advisor to four governors, holding cabinet rank for two.  In that role, I worked with communities and companies across Massachusetts to help them realize their economic potential.   During that time, the focus expanded from communities within MA competing with each other, to also protecting companies from recruitment efforts from other states.  North Carolina, New York, Michigan, Florida, Ohio and Virginia regularly had teams on the ground in Massachusetts pitching sites in their states.  Marlborough lost one of its oldest companies, Marlborough Wiregoods, to such an effort by the state of Illinois. 

The competition is even fiercer today.  Executives in growth sectors like finance, medical devices, biotech, renewable energy, and food manufacturing find themselves being wooed by governments all over the world with major tax breaks, labor concessions and streamlined regulatory process.  In my current role as CEO of a medium-sized business in Plymouth County, I have been solicited by the governments of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to expand our company there, complete with an offer of free land.   One of my friends owns and runs a medical device company in greater Boston.  He has flown to Costa Rica at the invitation of that county’s government where he received a proposal to move his entire operation at a substantial savings over his U.S. operations.  

The companies that were spotlighted at the Innovation Summit sponsored by the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation provide great examples of the threat and opportunity we face.  Of the growth industry companies that were present, almost half of the founders or CEOs were not MA natives. Many of them were born in other countries.   Their knowledge base, product and workforce are extremely portable.  Many are poised to grow and will be targets for recruitment or acquisition by other locales. 

Marlborough has a built in edge with these companies because they are already here  All we need are the resources to convert that to our advantage. What I have learned in my twenty years in this field is that good economic development doesn’t happen by accident.  It is about having a plan and executing it. It is about growing your own. 

It is knowing who your companies are, what their needs are, and what kind of work force, educational resources and infrastructure they need.  It is knowing what space is available to accommodate their growth and connecting them to it. It is providing a competitive tax climate and a seamless permitting and regulatory process. Most importantly real economic development is never finished; it requires constant diligence and effort. 

The proposal by Council President Arthur Vigeant to increase the local option hotel rooms tax is an innovative way to fund these efforts at no cost to the Marlborough property taxpayer, while making Marlborough a leader in the Innovation Economy, not just a target for others. 

Michael Hogan
Former Mayor, Marlborough, 1990 -1994

This story originally appeared here