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MetroWest employers: our challenges aren't what you might think

MetroWest495 Biz – If someone asked you to identify the biggest challenges that area employers face, you couldn’t be blamed for answering “taxes” or “finding the right workers.”

But four area companies, who between them have more than 140 MetroWest employees and 100 in Fitchburg, said last week in Marlborough – at the city’s third annual innovation summit – that you’d be incorrect.

An Unusual Take
Take Xtalic, a Marlborough-based maker of specialty alloys for the electronics industry and others, for example. CEO Tom Clay said that when the company, founded at MIT in 2005, moved to Marlborough, he was concerned about being able to find the right employees so far away from the tech hub of Cambridge.

“Interestingly, it hasn’t been a big issue for us,” Clay said. “I think we’ve done a lot of really good work here.”

In fact, for Clay, the bigger challenge is in sifting through numerous applications and cover letters, some of which are not so impressive.

“The cream definitely rises to the top,” he said, adding that people looking for work should focus on their resume writing.

On the matter of finding employees, others agreed, including Cheryl Gallant, HR manager at Micron Products in Fitchburg, and Lester Hensley, CEO of Emseal in Westborough.

So much for the much-fretted-over skills gap, at least for these firms.

So what about taxes?

Not much of a problem for Westborough-based expansion joint and sealant maker Emseal, said Hensley, who noted exemptions for personal property taxes as well as sales and use taxes for manufacturers in the state.

“Taxes for manufacturers in particular aren’t a big deal when there’s a manufacturing exclusion, so that’s not going to drive decisions about relocation,” Hensley said.

It’s not something you might expect many businesspeople to admit, whether they see taxes as truly burdensome or not.

Schools And Amenities Matter
So if it’s not talent and taxes, what do these companies worry about?

The most important thing is keeping their employees happy enough with their jobs to stick around and maybe even recruit qualified friends for jobs, the executives said.

Keeping employees happy has been a challenge in a down economy, said Gallant, but Micron has increased personal days and also not passed on increasing health plan costs in an effort to show employees they are appreciated, even if raises aren’t as common as they were in previous years.

And when it comes to attracting new employees, good schools are tantamount, the firms said. And so are good restaurants and bars, as well as amenities like walking trails.

“I would agree that schools are big,” said Brendon Davis, director of business operations at the Davis Cos., a Marlborough-based staffing firm.

And sometimes, little things can matter a lot, he added.

For example, Davis used to drive to Cambridge after work to play in a lacrosse league with co-workers. Now, they go to ForeKicks, an indoor sports facility in Marlborough. That kind of amenity is a nice perk for athletically-inclined workers, he said.

City Hears Concerns
Marlborough Mayor Arthur Vigeant told the businesses gathered at the summit – at the Campus At Marlborough on Simarano Drive last week – that he has asked for a state grant to expand a network of trails around the road, which is lined with commercial and industrial properties.

And he said the city council is expected to vote on an overlay district that will allow for more amenities like restaurants, coffee shops and even a hotel so employees don’t have to drive out to Route 20 to get something to eat.

“Whatever works for you. That’s what we want to do,” Vigeant said.

This story originally appeared here.