TELEGRAM & GAZETTE – Marlboro’s mayor, its chamber of commerce and its Marlborough Economic Development Corporation have all been working to draw biotechnology and medical device companies from Cambridge to Marlboro. And it’s working. What can Worcester learn?
Worcester seems to have advantages over Marlboro when it comes to life sciences. For example, the University of Massachusetts Medical School has the kind of talent that Marlboro — lacking any institutions of higher education — does not. But Marlboro makes up for that deficit in the minds of life sciences companies.
The location of ample office space near Route 495 makes it an easy commute for the talent that lives nearby. And Marlboro’s deep familiarity with life science’s complex regulatory requirements, its predictable decision-making, and its willingness to offer tax incentives has proven to be a winning combination.
With 39,000 residents, Marlboro used to be home to information technology companies, including Digital Equipment Corporation, 3Com, and many of Fidelity Investments’ workers. But these companies sold out or left town, and that meant office vacancies that Marlboro ably filled with “life science and medical device companies, many of which have arrived over the past year: Quest Diagnostics, Boston Scientific, Sunovian, and Hologic,” reported the Boston Globe.
In October, Marlboro landed its most recent corporate resident, medical device maker, Boston Biomedical Associates, which plans to move its 52 workers from Northboro to a 17,000-square-foot space on the second floor of at 100 Crowley Dr. in Marlboro.
In a 2011 master plan, the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation described a significant economic challenge facing the city and stressed the importance of adding corporate citizens in the biotechnology business as a way to meet that challenge. According to the report, “In order to keep the tax burden of the average Marlborough homeowner stable while allowing the city’s budget to continue to expand at the same rate at which it has been expanding over the past 10 years,” or about 2 percent per year above the inflation rate, the report said, the assessed value of the city’s nonresidential properties would need to grow by “more than $1 billion.”
One way to get there would be to create “27 million square feet of new nonresidential space” — nearly triple Marlboro’s 2011 level of commercial space — by encouraging biotechnology businesses and trade groups to open shop in the city.
This plan has worked, as Mr. Cummings said, about 30 percent of 2012’s commercial real estate activity in Marlboro came from “life science and medical device companies moving or committing to move into the city.”
Marlboro has three key selling points. It’s near workers who can get there on Interstates 90, 290, and 495, and Route 20; its city council structure speeds up permitting for big construction projects; and it delivers flexible corporate property tax arrangements, such as the Massachusetts tax increment financing (TIF) program.
Through TIFs, cities in the state temporarily reduce — for a period between five and 20 years — business property taxes by calculating a company’s tax bill only on the “base value” of a property, and exempting up to 100 percent of any value the property gains through the company’s operations.
Mr. Cummings notes that life science and biotechnology businesses like TIFs because they often need to make big capital expenditures such as installing a costly air-flow system or making facility additions. One win resulting from Marlboro’s TIF program is New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics, which announced in 2012 that it plans to move 950 of its employees into a 200,000-square-foot Marlboro building formerly used by Hewlett Packard.
Despite the distance from Cambridge, companies in the industry like Marlboro’s in-depth understanding of its complex requirements. This know-how prompted the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council in December 2012 to upgrade Marlboro to being a “Platinum BioReady Community” — along with Cambridge and Boston. MassBio noted admiringly that Marlboro had adopted the National Institutes of Health’s guidelines on recombinant DNA research, according to the Globe.
Marlboro’s economic development strategy may offer Worcester useful insights. As Mr. Cummings explained, “My office has been executing on our economic development plan since 2012. Mayor Arthur Vigeant and I have been meeting with 130 companies of all sizes and industries to ensure that they stay in Marlboro. And in seeking to attract businesses to the city, we are not focusing just on Massachusetts, but on the nation, in targeted industries such as biotechnology, life sciences, and medical devices. We offer quality of life and amenities — such as walking trails and bike paths for workers — and public transportation. And we realize that a location decision is a high stakes career event for the executive who makes it so we provide a highly predictable licensing timeline and a short decision window. And we are adding mixed use development that we think will make Marlboro a place where talented people will be able to live, work, and play.”
This article’s author Peter Cohan of Marlboro heads a management consulting and venture capital firm, and teaches business strategy and entrepreneurship at Babson College. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared here.