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Attracting business an evolving science in Marlborough

The MetroWest Daily News – Amenities such as bike paths and walking trails are increasingly rivaling tax breaks and infrastructure improvements as magnets to draw major companies to the region, business owners and public officials said Friday.

Speaking to area businesspeople and public officials at the third annual Innovation Summit, Mayor Arthur Vigeant said the emphasis lately has been on quality of life improvements for employees rather than traditional concerns about finances.

“(They) blew me away,” Vigeant said of the requests he fielded upon reaching out to businesses in his first year as mayor.

As a result, the city is revamping some of its trails and paths. It already has made some improvements to the Lake Williams area, he said, and has applied for a grant to create a new bike and walking path on Simarano Drive.

State Housing and Economic Development Secretary Gregory Bialecki applauded the mayor on his efforts in the city, particularly the announcement Thursday that Quest Diagnostics plans to fill the empty Hewlett-Packard site with 1,200 jobs.

“You’re on a roll,” Bialecki told the mayor after the summit. Held at The Campus at Marlborough and sponsored by the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation and local law firm Mirick O’Connell, the event focused on the challenges of employee recruitment and retention.

Bialecki told the Daily News that Marlborough has done a good job adapting to the new “two-headed” approach to recruiting businesses.

Whereas the traditional prong includes considerations like tax financing incentives — which are proposed to be part of the Quest deal — the second prong is a shift to thinking about what kind of place in which the best prospective employees would like to work.

“It’s clear that Marlborough has taken the two-headed approach,” he said.

The city is doing the kinds of outreach and research needed to attract talented young workers to the city, he said.

“The vision here, that this could be a center of commerce and business, is very realistic,” Bialecki said.

As the city continues to grow, there are still a number of infrastructure issues that need to be addressed, MEDC chairman and Mirick O’Connell attorney Arthur Bergeron told the room.

There are still intermittent power issues at some businesses, he said, something that “can’t continue.”

Another problem, he said, is that a number of buildings in the city don’t have the connections in the ground to allow them to get high-speed Internet.

MEDC Operation Director Timothy Cummings told The Daily News that the city is working with cable companies to get connections to those areas, including Donald Lynch Boulevard.

“It’s so important, because you need to set the table that will allow for success,” he said of infrastructure improvements.

After remarks from Vigeant and Bialecki, several area business panelists spoke to the challenges of hiring and retaining great talent in a tough economy.

The trouble isn’t so much attracting candidates, they said, but wading through the pools of resumes as well as finding ways to retain the best workers when raises aren’t an option.

Cheryl Gallant, human resources manager at Micron Products in Fitchburg, said her company upped its health care contributions in lieu of giving raises, in an attempt to keep its best workers.

It also tries to make its 100 employees feel like a family, she said, organizing social gatherings outside of work and encouraging things such as bringing their children to see their workplace.

Bialecki told the audience that the ultimate goal is to have a public-private partnership where municipalities, businesses and the state can attract and retain the best talent.

That way, companies will be more likely to stick around as they grow.

“We sort of let people get away,” he said, mentioning billionaires like Bill Gates and Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, both of whom got their start in Massachusetts but grew their companies elsewhere.

This story originally appeared here.