Greater Boston is a mecca of innovation. From Kendall Square to the Seaport, our innovation clusters rival the likes of Silicon Valley. But space is sparse and costs are high, so the question often comes up of who, or perhaps more aptly, where is next?
The city of Somerville seems to have all the ingredients to be the answer: an educated Millennial workforce, public transportation, and some of the best restaurants in the region, but is the city “ready”?
Elected officials including Mayor Joseph Curtatone, business owners, residents and more from the city recently gathered at an event sponsored by the Somerville Chamber of Commerce to discuss just that. The organization’s President and CEO Stephen Mackey kicked off the event by declaring this “a pivotal moment in Somerville history.” But time and time again the question arose of whether the city was ready.
Bob Coughlin, President and CEO of MassBio, which includes over 1,000 member organizations, said the companies he helps day in and day out want to go to “communities that have all the ingredients they’re looking for and are ready to do business.” Citing the success of Greentown Labs, the largest clean technology incubator in the US located in Somerville’s Union Square, he pleaded for the city to build more incubator space, saying confidently, “we’ll fill it.”
Our own Pete Bekarian may have articulated it best when he said that, “Somerville exceeds every metric companies are looking for.” In fact, the city bests both the Greater Boston region and the nation when looking at a number of factors including residents between 25-34 years of age and residents with a college degree or higher. But Pete also pointed out that, “you don’t have anything to sell yet.” He continued by saying, “If you don’t have permitted sites you don’t have a horse in the race. Companies are not considering US2’s Union Square because it’s not ready yet.”
While there were questions about whether the city was ready to become the region’s next innovation cluster, there were no questions about its potential to do so. The Green Line Extension Project was mentioned numerous times, as it will soon make the city even more accessible than it already is. Upon completion in 2020, approximately 80% of Somerville residents will be within walking distance of a rail line, compared to about 20% of residents today.
Federal Realty’s Assembly Row development was cited multiple times as a Somerville success story that has benefited dramatically from the addition of a dedicated MBTA Orange Line stop. But outside of Assembly Row there weren’t many other “ready” sites to point to.
However despite repeated questions about permitting and readiness, according to Pete, “the perception of the city is positive.” With all of the ingredients for success, the city seems poised to become a live, work, play destination for today’s innovation economy.
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