As Marlborough continues to draw in large companies, apartment buildings and mixed use developments will be crucial in attracting both the companies and the talent that spurs them to come to Massachusetts, according to the State's Housing and Economic Development Secretary Bialecki.
“There’s not enough of the kind of housing the talent wants, particularly the young talent," he said. “It starts with housing, no question."
Bringing developers to the state is two fold, said Bialecki. You must tend to the traditional approach of a reasonable tax structure, proper infrastructure and reasonable permitting is in place, he said. The other step is providing the housing to ensure the state is somewhere that young, talented workers want to live.
This is the young talent that drives businesses to Massachusetts, he said. They want a living situation that is close to work and that also affords them a direct ability to socialize, said Bialecki. It is more than just proximity, he said, explaining it also means nearby restaurants, stores, and bars.
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“For a lot of the younger talent, the idea of working a long day and adding a long commute to that is not attractive," said Bialecki who explained these workers want everything within a short distance. “We have to proivide that here ... (there is) a lot more ownership than rental and we really need to rebalance the mix."
He mentioned the recent announcement of Quest Diagnostics at the former HP site as a situation in which housing is planned to be very close. That site has a mixed use zoning overlay currently proposed for it.
“The standalone office not close to housing and restaurants and bars and activities is not interesting to the companies because they see that and they know that is going to set them back in try to attract and retain the talent," he said. "The companies want to create spaces that the talent wants to be in. It is as simple as that.”
Bialecki does not see this approach to housing as strikingly new. If anything, he said, it is a return to form and the commuting lifestyle will be looked at as an abberation.
“The Pilgrims landed here almost 400 years ago. If you look at the way people of Massachusetts worked for decades and decades, the housing and jobs were close by," he said. "From 1980 to 2010, that was the abberation ... in the full course of time people are going to say 'Why did people think that was a good idea?'"
Indeed, he said, Massachusetts has something people are seeking to replicate around the country — downtowns.
“In other places in the country people are trying to replicate them but you can’t make them,” said Bialecki. "We have this asset. These are historic buildings and historic neighborhoods.”
Ultimately, the question of housing and economic development comes down to what the market is demanding, he said. The demand is mixed use with housing, restaurants, hotels and office spaced grouped together.
"(Developers) are going to mixed use ... because that’s what the marketplace wants to see and that is how you create value," said Bialecki.“That is what the businesses are telling the real estate developers they want."