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December 8, 2008

Boylston Rockets Up Tech Ratings | Central Mass. well-represented in 2008 MassTrack list

Every year, the Massachusetts High Tech Council ranks the state’s communities for their friendliness to technology-based businesses.

This year, the municipality making the most dramatic rise through the ranks was Boylston, which shot up from number 234 in 2007 to number seven this year.

What has Boylston done to earn the new position?

Former planning board member Howard Drobner said he thinks the town has made some important strides in attracting businesses in recent years. New regulations make it easier to develop the busy area along Route 140 between Routes 190 and 70, he said, and that has attracted new economic activity, including an expansion by manufacturing company Phillips Precision Inc.

MassTrack rankings are based on 12 elements, measuring things like business taxes, student achievement and commercial and industrial growth.

Wyndham Lewis, vice president of the council, said that because many of the variables are fairly stable from year to year, changes in one area can make a big difference. He said many communities, including Boylston, got a big boost this year from adopting Chapter 43D, the state law that allows quicker permitting on specific “high priority” sites.

“If you can distinguish yourself by doing something forward-thinking like adopting 43D you tend to rise in the rankings fairly quickly,” he said.

Another area community that rose in the rankings this year, though not as dramatically, was Fitchburg, which went from number 239 to number 130. Economic development manager Dan Curley said the city works hard to draw in technology-based businesses. This year it adopted Chapter 43D and shifted the tax burden under its dual-rate system slightly away from businesses and toward residents. But Curley said the MassTrack ranking means less to him than the opinions of companies that are already in town.

“By addressing those I probably address the things that [the High Tech Council] looks at without actually looking at the survey,” he said.

In general, Central Massachusetts has done well in the MassTrack rankings over the past two years. This year, eight out of the top 10 communities were in the area. Meanwhile, some high-profile technology centers fell low on the list. Cambridge, for example, ranked 213th, and Waltham was 239th.

Lewis said those numbers reflect the fact that the rankings are based less on where technology businesses exist now than where they are being welcomed.

“I think companies are finding more and more that they can move out a little more and still have the same benefits that they would have in Cambridge or Waltham or some of the other hotspots,” he said.

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