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Ayer, Billerica Called Top Contenders For Business Growth

By Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl, amayer-hohdahl@lowellsun.com
Updated: 02/11/2010 06:36:16 AM EST


AYER -- It may be the smallest community in Greater Lowell, but Ayer appears to have a leg up on its neighbors when it comes to economic development.

The Nashoba Valley town was listed among the Massachusetts communities best positioned for business growth in a "Top 10 of 2010" list compiled by Business Development Strategies Inc.


The Medway-based firm, which helps expanding companies secure government incentives, also identified Billerica as a community "to watch" in 2010.


BDS President Lynn Tokarczyk said the top-10 and watch lists were developed to recognize those communities that succeed in attracting "thriving, recession-proof businesses" despite the economic downturn. She also hopes the list will spur other towns to become more proactive in attracting new business.


"We thought it would be a unique exercise -- something new, a little different and exciting," she said. "There are many, many, many great communities across the state. It was a challenge to narrow them down to just 10."


To generate the list, BDS used a team of researchers who first identified those communities with significant business-expansion projects over the last few years.


The team then applied different criteria to whittle down the list, including the availability of development-ready sites, the existence of infrastructure, and access to labor and transportation systems.


Most importantly, Tokarczyk said, BDS was looking for places that are business-friendly."All of these communities have a very pro-business climate -- streamlined permitting processes, marketing efforts, economic development teams," she noted. "They are very interested in attracting and retaining businesses in their communities."


Ayer fits the bill, Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski said.


He said Ayer has aimed to attract "sound business development without sacrificing the quality of life of residents."


Food-service and manufacturing companies have, for instance, found a growing niche in town, Suhoski said. The producers of Pepsi-Cola, Aquafina and Cains Mayonnaise all have a presence in Ayer, along with olive-oil maker Catania-Spagna, soy producer Vitasoy and flour manufacturer Horizon Milling.


All told, the food industry has brought more than 500 jobs to Ayer, according to Suhoski.


Another economic development success was the decision by L3 Communications ESSCO to move into a 216,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on Nemco Way in 2008, bringing 200 jobs with it. In exchange, Ayer granted the Fortune 500 company a 20-year tax break under a Tax Increment Financing package.


Besides such incentives, Suhoski believes Ayer is attractive because of its proximity to Interstate 495 and Route 2, its status as a railroad hub and its "open-door policy" toward businesses.


Ayer, for instance, has an economic-development director who acts as a liaison between interested companies and the town's permitting boards, along with an Industrial Development Finance Authority that offers loans to businesses.


"The community is flexible and open-minded," said Suhoski, a former economic-development director in town. "We're pleased to hear about this third-party acknowledgment that we're open for business."


Billerica Town Manager John Curran also welcomed his community's presence on the BDS lists.


"I have only been the town manager for five weeks, but one of the things I already see is that there is a great opportunity to take advantage of business development," he said.


He cited an ongoing effort to market the Route 3 corridor, which Billerica is a part of, as the new "technology belt."


"The Route 128 corridor used to be the place to go years ago," he noted. "Now, it's expanding out a bit to this area."


Billerica, which has an economic development person on staff, also wants to attract companies to vacant spaces on Middlesex Turnpike that could easily be converted, Curran said.


Billerica is already home to its share of businesses, including companies representing what Curran calls "the new frontier of business" -- biotechnology and renewable energies.


"Billerica is in a good situation," he noted. "It's a big community, an affordable community, with a good-sized work force and a lot of amenities in town."


Assets waiting to be tapped


What Business Development Strategies Inc. said about Ayer and Billerica in its "Top 10 of 2010" report:


  • Ayer, Top 10 of 2010 community: "This small town scores big in terms of available real estate and infrastructure and the ability to expedite projects. The town is capable of attracting businesses in record-breaking time, including companies such as L3 Communications ESSCO."

  • Billerica, community to watch in 2010: "Billerica has available properties to offer to its corporate users. This town is an attractive location in northern Massachusetts, and local officials understand what it takes to attract new development and are working to promote vacant properties."