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GE helping make I-495 area hot

WORCESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL – When General Electric brings its healthcare and life sciences division to Marlborough in the spring, the 500-employee facility will be both a symbol of the rising fortunes of the city and surrounding communities and a potential catalyst for more growth.

GE has said the 160,000-square-foot facility, to be located in the former Hewlett-Packard complex on Forest Street, will put the division close to “industry-leading talent,” customers and major medical and academic institutions. By the same token, since its announcement, other companies have seen GE’s move as a reason to make their own advances into the area. Notably, CSM Corp. is developing a Hilton Garden Inn nearby to serve the complex.

Rendering of GE Healthcare's future U.S. headquarters in Marlborough
Going forward, local real estate firms and business leaders say there’s good reason to be bullish on Marlborough and its neighbors.

Gary Holmes, president of RW Holmes Realty Co. in Wayland, said the GE facility, along with Boston Scientific and TJX’s new locations in Marlborough, are changing the local commercial real estate landscape. Often, he said, companies that serve these big corporations will follow, opening offices in surrounding areas.

“A lot of times the vendors like to be within close proximity of their major customers,” he said.

Holmes said it probably won’t be clear for another 12 months whether many offices are opening in and near Marlborough specifically to serve GE. But, he said, the cumulative effect of the new corporate offices is drawing attention to the area. And once companies start looking, they find communities where costs are much lower than they are closer to Boston, with good highway access and a strong local workforce.

“We are seeing a number of new companies that maybe are on Route 128 or other areas looking to take advantage of all that Marlborough has to offer,” he said. And it’s not just the city itself that will benefit, he added. “Someone is not going to specifically come in and just look at Marlborough. They are going to look at Hudson a little farther north; they’re going to look at Westborough.”

But despite their proximity, some of Marlborough’s neighbors need different strategies for drawing new companies, according to Sarah Cressy, president and CEO of the Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce. She said many firms want to be in Marlborough because of its easy access to Interstates 495 and 290. Hudson has different assets, including a classic downtown with mixed retail and office space.

“I’m seeing an improving market in our downtown space,” she said. “I’m seeing that because we have had a couple of restaurants open downtown that are bringing in a younger (clientele), and because rent has been pretty much suppressed for the past five years; it’s still very reasonable. Prices have not gone up but it’s sort of a hot place to be.”

Lower prices help

George Tonna, president of Worcester-based K&L Realty, which recently bought an office complex in Hudson and owns several other commercial buildings in the area, said the price differential between MetroWest and communities to the east is helping the market recover.

“We’ve been coming out of a very bad leasing market in the Boroughs,” he said. “But the Boston market, the Waltham market, and now the Burlington market are getting so expensive that we’re finally beginning to see spin-off effects.”

Tonna said the GE facility may be most important as an indicator that other companies watch to gauge whether it makes sense to locate in the area. He said firms looking for new locations can easily see that Marlborough has good highway access, abundant office space and good parking. What the presence of a company like GE signals is that the area also has an excellent, well-educated workforce. That’s especially true when a number of big-name companies all locate in the area.

“It can change the perception if it’s part of a trend,” Tonna said.

Tonna said the local workforce is probably the most important factor for companies he works with. For now, some may be able to set up shop in the Marlborough area and get workers to commute from Boston, but as the economy improves that will be harder to do.

“But if they can pull them from our region, there’s no reason not to locate here,” he said.

Steven Sager, partner with Sager Legal LLP, which is moving from Westborough to Marlborough, said he liked the new space largely because of its excellent access to Routes 20 and I-495. He wanted a location that’s easy for the firm’s employees, he said, but unlike law firms of 15 years ago, Sager didn’t need to worry about getting a space that’s convenient for clients driving from Boston.

“The way technology works is you don’t need to be in a specific location anymore,” Sager said. “When we decided to relocate the office we just expanded our area … just looked in a larger circle than we would have in the past.”

And, to the benefit of Marlborough and other nearby communities, it seems other companies are doing that too.

This article by Livia Gershon originally appeared here.