In Worcester, state economic development leaders push Collaborative Workspace Program
January 9, 2020 : Telegram & Gazette, by Brian Lee
WORCESTER — Collaborative workspace organizations are a key to fueling economic development in all corners of the commonwealth, state and city officials said Thursday as more than two dozen of the more notable ones converged on the city to receive nearly $1.9 million in state grants.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and MassDevelopment President and CEO Lauren Liss visited the rebranded WorcLab, formerly the Worcester CleanTech Incubator on Portland Street, to announce the fourth round of state Collaborative Workspace Program awards. In all, 31 organizations in 22 communities received $1,892,910 in grants to strengthen community-based innovation and entrepreneurship.
WorcLab, which offers coworking, office space, event space, and additive manufacturing support in-house to propel its members’ ideas into the market, received a $25,000 to remove a wall in its existing space, thereby providing a more open layout and furnish the fourth floor of the Printers Building with equipment and partitions.
In a salute to the 44-50 Portland St. building’s hosting of the event, and impressive transformation of the Printers Building, Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. described the facility as “the epicenter” of the city’s renaissance.
“This building is bubbling with creativity and energy” that spills out through the city’s theater district, the manager said.
A second city organization, the Worcester Public Library Foundation, received $15,000 for the Worcester Public Innovation Center, for flexible makerspace to provide access to resources, tools and technology for community-based learning, problem solving, collaboration, and engagement in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. The organization will use the grant to buy a laser cutter and 3D printer.
In Fitchburg, Urban Fork, a proposed collaborative workplace and commercial kitchen in that city’s Transformative Development Initiative district, received $160,000 to buy equipment and build out the space.
MassDevelopment is the state’s finance economic development authority, helping stimulate growth across the commonwealth with loans, technical assistance, real estate development, bonds, grants and more, Liss said.
Polito, who’s toured several coworking spaces around the state, said the collaborative workspace initiative is an example of government listening to municipal leaders and the business community. The state administration, she said, heard over and over again about the need to retain its talent in the form of college students and recent graduates.
Polito spoke of the value in having a space in the community where a student or graduate can take an idea and access the tools they need in the workspaces.
Such workspaces are also valuable to experienced workers who might want to take a skill and transition into a different career or job, the lieutenant governor said.
Polito added that these spaces have the consequence of making the work experience more personal.
“You come together, you work together, you share your ideas, and when you do that, you make friendships, and you get to know your families, and you stay connected,” she said. “And I think that’s a real asset to the collaboration.”
In a statement, Gov. Charlie Baker said, “Massachusetts’ economy thrives when local entrepreneurs, creators and small-business owners have the space and resources they need to be successful. The Collaborative Workspace Program represents an important tool for our administration to foster innovation and drive job growth in the commonwealth.”
Liss thanked the Barr Foundation, a private foundation that in 2017 awarded MassDevelopment a nearly $2 million grant to expand the scope of the collaborative workspace program to include arts-related collaborative workspace in Massachusetts.
“As we know, so often the artists are the canaries in the coal mine,” she said. “They make it, and everybody else comes, so we love to support our arts and economic development.”
In an unrelated funding announcement Thursday by Polito, Marlboro is to receive a $2 million MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant for improvements to Lincoln Street in support of a $25 million, mixed-use development located in the city’s French Hill neighborhood.
The infrastructure project includes upgrades to the roadway from Broad Street to the Assabet River Rail Trail for American Disabilities Act and Complete Streets compliance, an upgrade of the underground gas utility, on-street parking and streetscape improvements and installation of traffic signals.