By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Southborough – There are two sides of Southborough. One is the busy Route 9 corridor, home to a number of businesses and restaurants. The other side is a small town of three “villages” – Cordaville, Fayville and the downtown district – that retain a rural charm from years ago.
Southborough’s business environment has fared better than most of its neighbors in recent years. The office vacancy, once at 10 percent, is improving and had an average growth rate of 2.4 percent compared to the state average of .07 percent.
But like many other Metrowest communities, Southborough is competing for companies seeking to expand or relocate, not just from its neighbors but also from other Massachusetts communities, and other states and countries.
In response to that, in 2012 the Board of Selectmen created the Economic Development Committee (EDC). The eight appointed members, all of who are volunteers, have varied backgrounds including law, education and banking. David McCay the current chair, is a partner with Mirick O’Connell specializing in real estate, environmental and business disputes. Town Planner Jennifer L. Burney and Town Administrator Mark Purple are both ex-officio members. The committee’s other members include Selectman Daniel L. Kolenda, Julie W. Connelly, Christopher Robbins, Thomas Moschos, Bill Pezzoni, Claire Reynolds and Michael Wirtz.
“Our first stage was to build the infrastructure for local economic development,” McCay said. This included building a database of the businesses in Southborough, developing a Permitting Guide, and marketing materials, as well as a website. “We also spoke to a lot of people, to get the word out.”
“But our mission is always working towards one thing – preserving a stable, flat tax rate while also retaining Southborough’s small town charm,” he added. Increasing the assessed values of Southborough’s business and commercial properties is a critical component to that.
Last year, the town commissioned a report by Maureen Dunne of the MetroWest Economic Research Center (MERC) at Framingham State University. That report assessed the town’s business, nonprofit and employment activity.
Key points from the presentation, which were reported to the Selectmen in July, included the number of jobs, the number and types of employers and the average annual income of employees. According to Dunne’s report, Southborough has 430 establishments, up from 130 in 1980. A total of 7,600 workers are employed with an average annual salary of $75,800, and Southborough’s economy is well diversified. Four North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) super sectors generate nearly 75 percent of Southborough’s total employment. The education and health super sector employs 23 percent of Southborough’s workers, while professional and business services employ 21 percent, followed by manufacturing at 18 percent.
In November 2014, the EDC took the next step in its outreach efforts by holding the Southborough 2040 Business & Nonprofit Summit. Local business owners and town officials met to discuss what the town should look like in the year 2040. The summit, which also featured a panel of economic experts, including Dunne, helped to define some priorities, McCay said.
There were a number of things that residents and officials had on their wish lists, he said, including decreasing office vacancies, improving the roads, streamlining the permitting process, stabilizing the tax rate and enhancing the town’s villages to make them more attractive to businesses and their employees.
Enhancing those villages is now a top priority, McCay said. In doing so, three components are required: vision, appropriate zoning and implementation.
“We heard that people would like a small but vibrant downtown village with shops, restaurants and recreational activities,” he said. “They want a place where they can enjoy many amenities right in their own neighborhood.” With improvements to Main Street in the planning stages, the EDC sees this as a natural time to enhance the downtown.
A Master Plan completed in 2008 noted that zoning changes would be required in order to make changes in the village areas, McCay said, to allow for mixed usages.
“Changes would be necessary to promote compact, multi-story buildings with retail, restaurant or professional use on the first floor and residences above,” he said.
Once zoning changes are made, the next step would be working with developers, builders and property owners who share that same vision of creating vibrant, thriving centers.
“We also need to have the involvement and support of the entire community,” he said. “That will probably take the form of a series of workshops or meetings with community leaders, stakeholders and residents to refine the vision and identify next steps.”
The EDC is working on a new website and a business development guide, both of which will debut soon. For more information, visit http://www.southboroughtown.com/EDC/EDC.htm.