Life Science Developer Formulates Devens Plans

Post-Military Era Brings Job Growth

August 30, 2020 : Banker & Tradesman, by Lauren A. Liss

Devens is home to 100 businesses, nonprofits and government organizations with a combined workforce of more than 6,000.
Devens is home to 100 businesses, nonprofits and government organizations with a combined workforce of more than 6,000.

After the U.S. Army’s Fort Devens base closed in 1996 – taking 8,000 military and civilian jobs with it – MassDevelopment, the commonwealth’s finance and economic development agency, was tasked with redeveloping the 4,400-acre property into a sustainable and thriving mixed-use community.

At the time, many feared Devens was too remote, and without the military’s powerful economic influence, redevelopment would languish. Now, with over 20 years under our belts, we are proud to report that Devens is going strong. In the past month alone, two events have reaffirmed MassDevelopment is on the right track in bringing economic development and strong business growth to this vital location.

First, in what was Devens’ largest land transaction in many years, MassDevelopment recently sold 36.8 acres to an affiliate of King Street Properties, a prominent owner and developer of life science real estate based in Boston, in July. While King Street’s development plans are still being formulated, the company’s solid record of accomplishment presents a rich opportunity for further job growth in Devens.

Devens’ Strategic Advantages

Why would a Boston-based developer make such a substantial land acquisition in north central Massachusetts? Quite simply, Devens offers an ideal environment for businesses to locate, to grow, and to thrive.

The qualities that attracted King Street are the same that led other marquee companies to make Devens their home – just take a drive through Devens today, and you’ll see other notable businesses, like biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb, technologically advanced lettuce grower Little Leaf Farms and state-of-the-art film and television studio New England Studios.

Devens businesses can take advantage of our proximity to major markets like Greater Boston, Worcester and beyond, with close access to major highways and both freight and commuter rail service. Companies locating in Devens find a community with ready infrastructure, ample parking, space to scale up, as well as fast-track permitting, attractive tax and utility rates and a host of amenities designed for the modern workforce – all at a distinct competitive value.

Rounding out its unique character, Devens is also home to approximately 500 residents, with 30 new homes under construction and more in the pipeline. Amenities like hotels, restaurants, Mirror Lake and the Nashua River, a vast network of hiking trails, the highly rated Red Tail Golf Club and more make Devens a 24-hour community and a vibrant place to work, live and spend time.

Private Sector Wages Exceed State Average

A second confirmation of Devens’ continuing success is a just-published report from the UMass Donahue Institute detailing the ways in which Devens has become both an attractive location for businesses to grow, and a powerhouse for the larger Massachusetts economy.

Updating earlier studies, this latest UMass Donahue Institute report finds Devens is now home to close to 100 businesses, nonprofits, and governmental organizations that employ more than 6,000 workers, a striking 22-percent increase in employment since 2016. The vast majority of these employees – 85 percent – work in high-paying jobs in the private sector. Average annual private-sector wages in Devens last year were more than $96,000, beating the statewide average by $8,000. Total wages paid in Devens exceeded half–a-billion dollars and Devens’ total contribution to the Massachusetts economy last year was nearly $3.8 billion.

Not surprisingly, the UMass Donahue Institute report highlights manufacturing as “a significant force” in Devens, with 25 manufacturers powering 44 percent of jobs in the community – in comparison, manufacturing accounts for less than 10 percent of jobs statewide. Major manufacturers include our largest employer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, which has expanded its footprint since moving to Devens in 2005, as well as SMC Ltd. (medical devices), Johnson Matthey (pharmaceuticals) and Jabil (health care products), among many others. Other key industries include employers in professional, scientific, and technical services, and transportation and warehousing/distribution.

Devens has blossomed into a nationally recognized model for military base reuse, and MassDevelopment is proud of the many companies that have chosen Devens as their home. With commercial land available for lease or sale, we welcome you to come see what our business-ready community can offer you.

Lauren A. Liss is the president and CEO of MassDevelopment.