The only boom at Devens is a growing economy
January 9, 2019 : The Lowell Sun, Editorial
When Fort Devens closed in 1996 after serving as the Army's regional headquarters for 79 years, it's safe to say the future of that more than 4,000-acre parcel looked uncertain at best.
However, thanks to the bold and prescient leadership of the state's economic-development arm, the renamed Devens has become a business-friendly dynamo with more than 100 companies of all sizes operating within this self-contained community shared by the towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley.
With the creation of MassDevelopment by state statute, this economic-development entity can offer businesses incentives to relocate through a wide range of financing options. Thanks to its unique status, all prospective Devens properties can take advantage of a streamlined permitting process, as well as access to low-cost utilities. Cutting the usual zoning red tape has been a key part of Devens' attraction and success.
As a result, Devens has become a magnet for manufacturing and industrial corporations; as well as residential housing developers, who can either build new structures or restore the many military buildings that remain throughout the former Army base. Drawing workers and nearby residents to also live in this growing community remains of one MassDevelopment's major goals.
And as a recent report in the newspaper indicated, 2018 was replete with the long list of new and expanded manufacturing, industrial and residential activity. It includes a Connecticut-based cement company that plans to build two storage silos on Saratoga Boulevard, and housing construction with Emerson Green's master plan to build out a 124-unit development on 25 acres off Grant Road.
Seventeen of those units have been completed, and construction of the second phase is already under way.
Planners apparently even have enough confidence in Devens' economic climate to resurrect the controversial Vicksburg Square redevelopment. The 20-acre site with its seven structures had previously been proposed to be repurposed as a multi-family housing project, but didn't receive the support of all three Devens' communities.
These are just some of the many projects approved in the past year that are now moving toward completion.
Without housing that's affordable enough to retain and attract workers, our state's burgeoning economy runs the risk of losing its most precious capital -- people. Devens, obviously sensitive to that potential risk, wants to do its part to prevent that from happening.
So, from Accel-RF Instruments to WestRock, corporations of all sizes -- as diverse as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Little Leaf Farms and New England Studios -- continue to grow and thrive.
Barring any move by the Legislature, per the Devens blueprint agreement, MassDevelopment will run Devens until at least 2033, when that agency and others will likely recommend that Devens becomes the commonwealth's 352nd community.
Until that time, we'd say that old former Army base turned economic-development powerhouse remains in good hands.