Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

June 23, 2014

City officials push ahead with plans to talk up — and fill up — South Worcester Industrial Park

PHOTO/Matt VOLPINI Ron Charette of the South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corp., outside the industrial park: After the launches of other economic development projects in the city, “it's our time.”
The park sits conveniently near rail access, a half-mile from the Port of Worcester and minutes from major routes. (image from Google Maps)
PHOTO/Matt VOLPINI Absolute Machinery hopes other businesses will find homes in the industrial park.

To Nate Smith, the reasons for locating a business in the South Worcester Industrial Park are many and obvious. Smith, along with business partner Mike Ortolano, owns Absolute Machinery, at 92 Gardner St., a property that has access to the rail line, major highways and the Port of Worcester.

“Not many cities have a U.S. customs port right in their backyard,” he said.

Absolute Machinery receives machines for the plastics industry from its subsidiary in China and from suppliers in Germany and distributes them around North America. Smith said the company has two 25,000-square-foot facilities at the industrial park, known as SWIP, but it's one of a very few companies taking advantage of the location's benefits.

“It's languished for many years, and we've actually been the shepherds and stewards of trying to make sure the property's been maintained around the sites,” he said.

Worcester officials are trying to change that now. The city council recently adopted a plan for SWIP that Paul D. Morano, the city's director of business assistance, said should get things moving. The plan allows Worcester to dispose of city-owned properties within the park directly without going through a bid process under the state's Chapter 30B rules. It also lets Worcester hire commercial brokers to advertise and market land within the park.

Morano hopes to have one or more brokers on board by mid-July, and, with their industry connections and ability to reach out to potential buyers, finding interested parties shouldn't be hard.

“These are pad-ready sites. Some have rail access, great proximity to highways and the Port of Worcester, a great labor force surrounding it,” he said. “The city's also prepared to provide tax relief incentives.”

The selling of the industrial park properties has been on the city's backburner for more than 15 years, Morano said. An 11-acre site, with eight of those acres owned by the city, SWIP has a dirty past that included a foundry, metal manufacturing and auto salvage, Over the years, $6.5 million in federal, state and local funding has gone into the area — to efforts that included demolishing old buildings, cleaning up hazardous waste from old industrial operations and improving the roadways, streetlights and water and electric lines. The final product? Space for up to six parcels of land available for light industrial and commercial uses, with the potential for as much as 180,000 square feet of new buildings. New occupants will find access to Interstates 290 and 90, Route 146, and downtown Worcester, as well as both the Providence & Worcester and CSX railroads.

Beyond the physical improvements, said Ron Charette, executive director of the South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corp. and a long-time cheerleader for the project, what's been lacking in past years is a political focus.

“There's been so many other projects that have taken the forefront — Biotech Park, Gateway Park, City Square … now I think it's our time in the sun,” he said. “It's a huge part of our community and always has been to have jobs right in the neighborhood.”

Lobbying for attention

Charette said District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera has been particularly active in making the park a City Hall priority. He said other elected officials have also pushed the project.

“You can have everything in place, you can have infrastructure, you can have neighborhood support, but if you don't have willpower to get it done, it won't happen,” Charette said. “Everybody loves to step onto a moving train, and SWIP is now moving in the right direction.”

Charette said there are already a number of indications that things are looking up, from a sign that's been posted on Southbridge Street saying land is available to preliminary talks between city officials and potential buyers. Now, he said, conversations are starting about the best uses for the park, which might include food industry businesses or new technology manufacturing.

“There's a sense now of direction that we've lacked for nearly 20 years,” he said. “Right now the tide is coming in, and I think everybody's realizing that this is viable.”

For City Councilor Rivera, making that happen became a clear priority after she took office in 2012 and began discussing SWIP.

“The more I researched it, the more it made sense,” she said. “Really, the important thing is increasing our tax base and creating jobs for our city.”

Morano, the city director of busiiness assistance, said movement toward that goal is in full swing now.

“There's great momentum right now,” he said. “There's interest from the private sector. …. I think the biggest step we've had in the past 15 years is being able to hire a commercial broker to help market the site.”

If Absolute Machinery gets new neighbors soon, Smith said, it will be good for the city.

“This is a crown jewel out here,” he said. “We think there's significant room for expansion of various companies. We're hopeful that we get other (manufacturing and industrial engineering) firms here. It could add good jobs, as we have. They've just got to get it done.”

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF