May 8, 2012 | last updated May 8, 2012 8:59 am

MERC's MetroWest Checkup

The MetroWest region continued in 2011 to display the traits that have defined it against its peers over the past several decades – low unemployment, financially stable communities, high cost of living and a pricey housing market.

That's according to economists at the MetroWest Economic Research Center at Framingham State University, who each year use economic data to paint a portrait of the "Greater MetroWest" region.

By MERC's definition, that region contains Ashland, Framingham, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hudson, Marlborough, Northborough, Sherborn, Southborough, Sudbury, Wayland and Westborough.

Though MetroWest is generally affluent (average wage: $68,200), it has its struggles. For example, single family home sales in 2011 were the lowest they've been since 1987. But median sale prices seemed to pay no mind. They ticked up half a percentage point to $403,100.

The biggest drops in home sale volume occurred in Northborough and Marlborough, which saw declines of 15 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Westborough and Sherborn both saw the biggest increase at 35 percent each.

Cost Of Living On The Rise

MERC's cost of living index depicts a region that ranks on the expensive end for regions across the United States.

MetroWest's cost of living rose 12.3 percent from 2010 to 2011 and is higher than even the Boston area. In New England, its housing and overall cost of living indices are second only to Stamford, Conn.

Housing in the region is 42 percent more expensive than the national average. The most expensive housing markets are Sherborn, Sudbury and Wayland.

The average single-family tax bill in the region is $6,898, up from $3,548 in 1998.

Employment Remains Strong

Unemployment in Greater MetroWest continued to remain below the state average in 2011. The region averaged 5.3 percent as of February 2012. Hudson had the highest rate at 7 percent and Natick had the lowest at 4.3 percent.

One fact that may be a surprise to some: What sector employs the most people in the region?

Some may guess retail or tech. But the answer is manufacturing.

Despite suffering job losses of more than 20 percent over the past decade (the second highest loss in MetroWest), manufacturing continues to employ nearly 27,000 people, making up 15.2 percent of the region's workforce, according to MERC's report.

Manufacturing, which has become more high-tech, provides an average wage of more than $100,000 per year in the region, higher than the state average for that sector and second only to information technology in the region.

Image credit: nokhoog_buchachon


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