A wide-ranging panel of area development professionals praised Bedford as a well-positioned destination for new business, especially in the biomedical and emerging technologies sectors.
The program, titled “Rethinking Redevelopment,” was sponsored by the Middlesex 3 coalition last week in Town Hall’s Reed Room. (The multipurpose room honors former Town Manager Richard Reed, who envisioned and laid the groundwork for Middlesex 3.)
“Bedford always has been a dynamic, strong market, a great place for companies to hang their flag,” said panelist Jake Borden, a commercial broker with Collier’s International in Boston. “With a dynamic labor force, it’s no surprise that office-to-lab conversions have come to Bedford.”
Others described regional advantages. “What makes this such a vibrant area is to be able to work and live here and have so many amenities,” observed Lynn Tokarczyk, a government tax incentives consultant with Business Development Strategies. “The Middlesex 3 area has always been an incredibly strong area for emerging technologies and cutting-edge opportunities,” added Peter Abair, executive director of MassEcon, an economic development nonprofit organization.
Jeffrey King, the town’s Director of Housing and Economic Development, presented the narrative from Bedford’s perspective.
During the pandemic, a few companies departed, “and we had an opportunity to start repositioning ourselves for biotech,” including “putting the infrastructure in place for permitting these kinds of companies.”
The list of projects ballooned to 14 during 2022, King said, totaling 1.8 million square feet, and including 744,000 square feet in five retrofits. “In the biotech and life-science sector, we have identified 40-45 companies,” he said. Many of them are small and mid-sized as the town seeks the “right mix.”
King added that his meetings with the top 15 current employers indicate that “a lot of them are seeing organic growth as well. The important part is developing those relationships and making sure you understand what a particular need is.”
“There’s no reason why the needs of businesses and developers and the town can’t be win-win,” King stated, acknowledging the challenges of housing and workforce supply. From the audience, Ira Goldman, a vice president with Lantheus Holdings of 201 Burlington Road, said, “We moved to Bedford in December. Bedford was really wonderful to work with.”
Addressing King, Tokarczyk said she is “very impressed with your outreach to the business communities. I don’t know if this happens everywhere. Businesses are looking to expand, if they have an existing relationship. It’s very important for local officials to know who their corporate partners are.”
Abair concurred, saying, “It’s so important to have a cooperative town hall who understands how quickly some products have to move.” He said Bedford is “a buyer-ready community – a community going through that process that says we understand what the industry is and the nature of the facility; having an individual that can bring a prospect, representing the community working with a project. That ombudsman in town hall that is going to shepherd a project through. Not every community has that.”
He also stressed the importance of “community support for commercial development in general. You don’t want to get to a point where a neighborhood rises up at the last minute. Having advance knowledge in town hall to avoid those issues is incredibly important.”
Reid Joseph, a principal of Redgate Capital Partners, which converted a former office headquarters into a life sciences complex at 100 Crosby Drive, said his firm is “trying to get ahead of the trends. Everyone tal
ks about who lives here, a well-educated employee base. You also need an opportunity as a developer, you need space available. In Bedford there were vacant office buildings. That’s an opportunity.”
He stated, “Working with Jeff and Bedford has been great because everyone wants the same thing.”
And he stressed that “getting more people living affordably” is a regional challenge. In answer to a question, Joseph said “conversion from office to housing doesn’t always make sense. It’s just not cost effective.” He pointed out that older mill buildings converted well because they are long and narrow.
Abair commented that “the life sciences industry has been an incredible force of nature in Massachusetts and really buoyed the commercial real estate market even as we’ve seen office opportunities perhaps going down.” He also mentioned other sectors – advanced manufacturing, clean technology, energy technology.
Borden mentioned robotics, battery companies, “super-high-tech innovative technologies. There’s not enough space that can accommodate. It’s up to creative, smart groups to convert existing buildings, or find development opportunities which are hard to come by.”
Asked to cite deterrents to locating in this region, Borden said cost of living and housing supply.
Joseph injected a note of caution, speaking at the end of the program. “It’s hard out there right now. It’s hard for everyone,” he said, adding, “Optimism is in the face of challenge.” In Bedford, he said, “willing parties all work together,” and the long-term prospects are good.