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Updated: December 20, 2021 Economic forecast 2022

The Worcester renaissance

As Worcester commemorates its 300th anniversary next year, there will be much to celebrate. Clearly, the city is enjoying a renaissance. 

Robert D. Cox Jr.

Once derided by The New York Times as the utility closet of New England, Worcester has blossomed into a vibrant, multicultural city. Following years of hard work and surging economic development, city leaders have succeeded in making the metropolitan area a desirable spot to live and work, attracting dozens of businesses and legions of talent.

The Heart of the Commonwealth now boasts first-rate construction developments. The Cove in the Canal District, created by Worcester developer Churchill James LLC, will include a $110-million, 13-story apartment-and-retail tower. The former site of Table Talk Pies’ manufacturing plant is being transformed into a 400-unit housing complex by Boston Capital Development.

The coronavirus pandemic may have delayed the debut of Polar Park, home of the Worcester Red Sox, but the new baseball stadium wound up becoming a huge draw this year, bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the city from across New England, ending the season with one of the largest attendance rates in all of Minor League Baseball.

The city now has the largest population in its history, with 206,518 residents, according to U.S. Census data released in August. It became the fastest-growing city with more than 100,000 people in New England over the past decade, growing 14.1% between 2010 and 2020.

Biotech has helped fuel the boom. Now home to more than 60 biotech companies, Central Mass. saw 7.9% growth in its biomanufacturing jobs, just in 2020. The Reactory, the city’s biomanufacturing park, will bring hundreds of more scientists.

Despite the pall cast by the pandemic, Worcester is expected to escape the brunt of the virus-induced economic downturn. In fact, Bloomberg ranked Worcester in 2020 as eighth out of 100 largest U.S. cities most likely to recover.

Given our region has some of the highest vaccination rates in the country, the regional economy is forecast to expand at a clip similar to the national average during 2022.

Ironically, the pandemic could boost Worcester’s growth. As the virus forced people to shift to remote and hybrid work, an increasing number of employees began rethinking how much time they want to spend in offices – and where they want to live. The center of gravity may shift away from Boston’s urban core, concluded a state government summer report.

“More residents could move from Boston to Western and Central Massachusetts as they seek out affordable, larger living space and are required to come to work in person less often,” the report said, adding survey respondents “found affordability and larger living space to be determining factors in where they would choose to move.”

Falling demand for offices could provide opportunities to convert workplaces into new uses, such as housing.

Meanwhile, the city’s rich diversity and history of immigration are fueling a resurgence of minority-owned small businesses. More than one-third of the city’s business owners are foreign-born.

Real estate developers recognize the city changes, and opportunities.

“All of the same things that prompted us to invest heavily in Boston 20 years ago – you have all the same characteristics here in the city of Worcester,” said David Greaney, founder & CEO of Synergy, a Boston-based real estate investment and services company. He cited Worcester’s size as New England’s second-largest city, access to transportation, strong school system, network of hospitals, and hospitality amenities.

Synergy, which is doing a multi-million-dollar renovation of the city’s glass tower at 446 Main St., is recognized as one of the most active and successful building owners and managers. It’s no accident the company has turned its attention to The City of Seven Hills.

Worcester offers big-city opportunities, with small-city charm, Greaney said. The city’s momentum is real, and the prospects for its future are bright.

Robert D. Cox, Jr. is managing partner at Worcester law firm Bowditch & Dewey and finishes his term as chair of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce at the end of the year.

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