Economic Development Committee discusses site selection strategies in Westborough

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By Bonnie Adams Government Editor

Westborough – As the country slowly moves out of a recession, Westborough officials want to make sure they are primed for and receptive to as many potential employers as possible. At the Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting held April 6, consultants from three organizations met with EDC members to discuss different strategies that could help to attract businesses to the town.

Chris Steele, the president of CWS Consulting Group, LLC, and Doug Kehlhem, the director of Corporate Site Location for Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development (MassEcon), spoke to the committee regarding the process companies go through when they are seeking a place to locate a business.

Steele noted that his firm is now seeing a number of companies that put that process on hold during the recession and now are in an almost “emergency situation” to move forward.

Westborough, he said, had already laid much of the groundwork for businesses to come into the town, just by the nature of having such a strong EDC.

“It's important to also keep talking to the businesses that are already here,” he said. “They can become ambassadors for your community.”

MassEcon, Kehlem said, works with communities in a partnership to foster economic growth in Massachusetts. Services they offer include site finding, research/information and an ambassador's program to businesses looking to locate in the commonwealth. During the past year, the organization assisted companies from a variety of industries, such as miscellaneous types of manufacturing, alternative energy and bio-tech.

On its website, www.massecon.com, is a list of 100 so-called “market-ready sites,” which are sites that are already permitted and ready to be developed. Two of those sites are actually in Westborough, Kehlem said. Those sites are 20 Walkup Dr. and 50 Washington St.

Of the companies that they assisted over the past year, 28 percent looked in the Greater Boston area, 16 percent in Metrowest and 17 percent in central Massachusetts, he added.

The EDC also heard a presentation about Brownfield tax credits from Hal Davis, an economic development consultant. Brownfields are properties that are significantly harder to develop because they may have potentially hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants.

However, there are state programs that offer tax credits for cleaning and then building on these sites, Davis said. An important factor in obtaining these credits is that a potential company or developer must be a so-called “innocent party,” that is, not be the original owner or party responsible for contributing to the condition of the site.

To be eligible, the property must also be in an economically distressed area, he added. Westborough, by the nature of being an Economic Target Area, qualifies as such an area.

“This type of program helps the local tax base as well as helps to fight urban sprawl,” Davis said.

Westborough also offers companies a special tax credit similar to the state tax credits, Town Manager Jim Malloy said.

There are currently several Brownfields in Westborough, Town Planner Jim Robbins said. But as owners are sensitive to that label, he declined to name them in the meeting.

In other business, Rod Jané, the chair of the Board of Selectmen as well as the EDC, announced that town officials were thrilled with the news that the Bank of New York has chosen to stay in Westborough. The company currently employs 1,000 people and will be adding another 200 jobs, he said.

“This is great news for Westborough,” Jané said, “especially after hearing the news about Fidelity leaving Marlborough.”

Fidelity officials recently announced they are closing their Marlborough campus and relocating the 1,000 positions there to offices in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.