I attended a fascinating panel event titled “The Next Innovation Center: Why Not Somerville?” on February 28, 2017. The event was sponsored by the Somerville Chamber of Commerce.

Panelists were top-notch:

  • Robert Coughlin, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council
  • Kermit Alexander, Chief Economist, American Institute of Architects
  • Peter Bakerian, Managing Director, Jones Lang LaSalle

A few highlights:

Companies base their HQ, office, and laboratory space decisions on what their people want. Their people, like most, want to live, work, and play in the same area. Walking from one to the other to the other is optimum.

What do these companies want for their employees?

  • One hour commute to Logan Airport
  • No-car commute; walking and biking is preferred
  • Pre-permitted sites, ready to go, with predictable outcomes
  • Short and aggressive time-frames from decision-making through move-in
  • Urban amenities including quality housing, restaurants, coffee shops, and convenience stores
  • Accessibility convenience via public and private transportation
  • Outdoor spaces
  • Buildings: modern common areas, bike storage, locker rooms and showers, IT infrastructure, natural light

Life Science and high-tech companies want to locate in geographic clusters. Good examples include East Cambridge/Kendall Square and Boston’s Seaport District. In order to become recognized as an Innovation Center, Somerville needs to attract more small start-ups, possibly via incubator space, as well as larger scale development.

Bob noted the positive outcomes that resulted from collaboration between businesses and city and state governments.  He noted that it’s a happy time when a Democratic Mayor and a Republican Governor can get along and work constructively. Examples included the burgeoning biotech sector in Worcester, and the new GE headquarters in Boston.

National concerns include housing affordability, and overheated real estate market segments such as apartment buildings.

Somerville -specific concerns include the having the GLX meeting it’s 2021 operation opening date, enacting a new zoning code that’s been under discussion for several years, and finding a developer to break the ice from the perception that Somerville is a frontier market despite it’s close proximity to East Cambridge.

Peter noted that, in general, the Seaport District and Fenway’s redevelopment began with housing and then expanded to office and laboratory space while Kendall started with office and laboratory space.