By Thomas Grillo and Christopher Robbins
Thomas Grillo is a resident of Southborough and served as the Commercial and Residential Real Estate Editor for the Boston Business Journal.
Christopher Robbins is a member of Southborough’s Economic Development Committee and serves on the Board of Directors of the Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce.
Nearly 100 officials, planners and residents packed a St. Mark’s School conference room recently to learn how Southborough’s economy works and to develop a vision for its future.
Dubbed “Southborough 2040 Business and Nonprofit Summit,” participants reviewed the town’s pluses, its challenges and potential improvements.
“I want to thank you in advance for sharing your ideas with us about how we can take responsibility of our local economy, spur job creation, sustain economic growth and make Southborough 2040 the best place it can possibly be,” said David McCay, in a welcome to the crowd. McCay is chairman of the town’s Economic Development Committee and a partner with Mirick O’Connell of Westborough.
Among the ideas floated included creation of a downtown village, more restaurants, walking paths, a diversity of housing that would attract young people, updating our zoning, construction of more offices along Route 9, as well as infrastructure improvements to the busy road.
The two-hour session, which included residents, town officials, and leaders from the business and nonprofit communities, comes as the town prepares to make a $6 million infrastructure investment from Sears Road to Park Street. Plans include an 11-foot wide traffic lane, four-foot shoulders, new traffic lights and five-and-a-half-foot wide, raised sidewalks.
Maureen Dunne, a Framingham State University economics professor, Barry Bluestone, Director of the Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy at Northeastern University and Alan Clayton-Matthews, a Northeastern economist and member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, provided data and an economic outlook as Southborough prepares for the next decade.
In what proved to be one of the highlights of the summit, Dunne noted that there’s unrelenting competitive pressure from surrounding communities, state, nation and globally for jobs.
“Communities large and small must be knowledgeable and proactive about business retention, recruitment, and creating an environment that will enable businesses to prosper,” Dunne said. “Your community has a diverse and robust set of industry super sectors comprised of over 430 businesses. The town’s super sectors of education, health, professional and business services, manufacturing and trade, transportation and utilities are prosperous.”
She said Southborough has a highly skilled work force, high wage employment and three decades of record growth which demonstrates the town’s resilience during sharp fluctuations in the economy.
“It is important to preserve that competitive advantage,” Dunne added.
Clayton-Matthews said Southborough’s economy is very interdependent with the economies of the MetroWest, the state, nation, and the world.
“Your community’s economic success is largely based on its ideal location, vibrant diverse businesses, and a highly educated work force with unemployment below 5 percent,” he said.
Clayton-Matthews expressed concern about forecasts indicating that by 2018 the labor force growth index in Massachusetts will be zero which is based on data showing that baby boomers will be retiring in large numbers with few replacements in sight to fill job vacancies.
Bluestone said Southborough’s declining labor force and dwindling student enrollment are worrisome but represent an opportunity to invest more in education, infrastructure, transportation and housing as a way to keep businesses, jobs and young families in town.
“The challenges and needs expressed should be evaluated and acted upon by leveraging Southborough’s unique economic strengths that will enable the town to sustain its prosperity and economic wellbeing,” Bluestone said.
Listen to how three economists (including Maureen Dunne) outline the intricacies of Southborough’s economy.