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June 17, 2015

Business leaders: Worcester 'exciting city' despite tight regulations

Rick Saia Nick Smith, president of Rand Whitney, speaks at the “Acting Locally” panel sponsored by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau at the DCU Center.

Greater Worcester is a good place for businesses to operate, but a looser regulatory environment could make the region even better, especially in the face of an increasingly competitive global marketplace, according to four business leaders who engaged in a panel discussion Wednesday morning.

The discussion, “Acting Locally,” was sponsored by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau at the DCU Center. It focused on area businesses and how they engage with local communities.

“We enjoy a strong and positive relationship with the community,” said Neil McDonough, president and CEO of FLEXcon, of Spencer, where the manufacturer is the largest employer. But the company’s biggest challenge in dealing with local and state officials revolves around regulations.

FLEXcon’s customers expect the company to act quickly, McDonough told a gathering of about 100. But the processes of government don’t always meet the speed “that we desire.”

Nick Smith, president of Worcester-based packaging products manufacturer Rand Whitney, offered a contrast between the Northeast and Southeast. In Georgia, he said, a business can approach town officials for something and get easy approval. But in this region of the country, it can take three to five years.

Nonetheless, the panelists – which also included Hanover Insurance President and CEO Frederick Eppinger and moderator Michael Mulrain of Polar Beverages – asserted their commitment to Worcester and surrounding towns as well as their efforts to improve the quality of life in their communities. Eppinger, for one, head of a company that has played a major role in Worcester’s downtown redevelopment, lauded the city’s collaborative approach, which extends beyond City Hall.

“It’s easy to pick up the phone and work with anybody,” he said. “You can get seven people together and move the needle.”

Despite the higher cost of living in the Northeast compared with other parts of the country, all three panelists touched on the value of education, specifically the local colleges and the quality of the local public schools, as an edge in preparing tomorrow’s workforce.

“What’s interesting about all (of the) companies” represented on the panel is that “we can move” from the area, said Eppinger, who mentioned that he continually receives requests from other communities to move Hanover Insurance out of Worcester, where it was founded in 1852. Today, he added, a company has more of an opportunity to choose their location, which is helped by the growth of information technology. “People are going to get more mobile, not less mobile,” he said.

If Worcester wasn’t doing a “great job” in working with business, said Smith of Rand Whitney, his company would not be investing in a renovation of its Grove Street facility, buying additional property and adding jobs.

“It’s not just another city; it’s an extremely important city,” Smith said. “I’m excited about where we’re at.”

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