Worcester: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Worcester, the second largest city in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and located at its geographic center, is a major manufacturing, distribution, service, retail, and trading center for New England. Worcester's economy is diverse, with more than 5,000 firms of all types in the metropolitan area. This diversity has served Worcester well in periods of economic downturn, as the economy is not dependant on the success of a single sector. While the national economy continues to struggle, Worcester has experienced modest growth and can boast of many positive economic indicators. Worcester is home to diverse manufacturing firms, retailers, service companies, and wholesale businesses. Economic incentives and assistance programs help draw businesses to Worcester and retain existing firms.

Worcester's colleges and universities comprise the second largest employer in the city. Developments in biotechnology and high tech industries, the health industry, manufacturing, and downtown development highlight Worcester's areas of greatest recent growth. Many emerging industries such as fiber optics, electronics, and advanced ceramics are flourishing. Further, the presence of so many higher education opportunities in Worcester mean that the community's workforce is highly skilled and well-trained. The educational level of Worcester's workforce has been an additional draw to businesses in the fields of health, technology, pharmaceuticals and professional services.

An important indicator of Worcester's economic health is the number of ongoing development projects and business relocations in the area. Business development in Worcester has been steady and strong since 2000, and more than 100 companies expressed interest in relocating to the Worcester area during the 2004 fiscal year.

Items and goods produced: abrasives; steel and wire goods; ball valves; sprinklers; grinding wheels; woolens and worsteds; textile, grinding, and labeling machinery; machine tools; dies; airplane and electronics parts; shoes; leather and knitted goods; looms; firearms; automotive accessories; boilers; plastics; wrenches; precision tools and gauges; chairs; carpets and rugs

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

Local programs

The District Improvement Financial Program, or DIF, is a locally driven public financing alternative that allows municipalities to fund public works, infrastructure, and development projects. Projects qualifying under DIF receive advantages such as the avoidance of any new tax levies and negotiable finance terms. The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce also has a Business Assistance Program, which focuses on retaining existing businesses and attracting new business to the Worcester area. The Chamber of Commerce has the capabilities to assist in site searches and other technical aspects of the relocation or expansion process.

State programs

The state of Massachusetts offers a wide array of business and financial incentives, as well as assistance in coordinating business development and relocation. The Economic Development Incentive Program, or EDIP, was designed to create and retain businesses in target areas. State tax incentives are available to qualifying projects, including a five percent investment tax credit for tangible, depreciable assets as well as municipal tax incentives such as special tax assessments and Tax Increment Financing.

Job training programs

Area educational institutions work closely with local companies to design practical programs of study to prepare students for entry into the job market in such fields as electronics, machine operation, computer technology, health care, culinary arts, and clerical skills. Upgrading and retraining programs are also available.

The city's Office of Employment and Training works closely with the local employment and training network providers to offer a diverse range of programs. The Office aims to prepare residents for entry into the workforce by providing access to important occupational skills matching the needs of regional employers. The Worcester Workforce Central One Stop Career Center provides jobseekers with information regarding both training and employment opportunities, including job banks, notifications of on-site recruitment, resources pertaining to training and continuing information programs, and information on distance learning opportunities. The Massachusetts Division of Employment and Training administers the Workforce Training Fund, which provides resources to businesses to train both new and current employees. The Hiring Incentive Training Grant Program provides additional incentives for businesses hiring employees who have been out of work for over a year.

Development Projects

Development projects have been thriving in Worcester since the turn of the century. The Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives, an independent, tax-exempt corporation dedicated to the growth of biotechnology has completed two Worcester facilities. Named the MBIdeas Innovation Center, this facility has lead to the formation of over 12 companies and the creation of 65 new jobs, as well as investment into the Worcester community. The Innovation Center also plans a new life sciences business with its own sophisticated facility.

The Union Station development project is a $32 million renovation of one of Worcester's most beautiful buildings. Abandoned in 1975 after the decline of the railroads, the historic 1911 French Renaissance building stood vacant for more than 20 years. In renovating the building, particular attention was paid to the restoration of its original stained glass ceilings, marble columns, and mahogany woodworking. Today, the station is a functional transportation center, serving as a hub for train, taxi, and bus lines. A restaurant, blues lounge, and the FDR American Heritage Center Museum and Special Collections Showcase are also housed within Union Station. Additionally, commercial rental space is available on the first and second floors of the station.

In 2003 work was completed on the initial phase of the South Worcester Industrial Park, a complex project involving the environmental remediation and rehabilitation of eleven acres of blighted and abandoned property. Projects such as the South Worcester Industrial Park are vital to the continued development of the Worcester area, as space for new and expanding business is at a premium. When completed, the Industrial Park will provide space for private businesses interested in developing new industrial facilities.

June 2004 marked the starting point of the redevelopment of a one million square foot outlet mall at the heart of Worcester in the CitySquare project. The project aims to create a mixed-use facility over the next five years, with space dedicated to uses as diverse as medical, office, residential, retail, and entertainment. CitySquare will feature an open-air street grid and will be centered around a green space. Its proximity to important downtown features and to transportation facilities mean that CitySquare will be an important step in transforming the core of downtown Worcester.

Economic Development Information: Office of Planning and Community Development, City of Worcester, 418 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608; telephone (508)799-1400. Worcester Business Development Corporation, 33 Waldo Street, Worcester, MA 01608; telephone (508)753-2924

Commercial Shipping

Worcester's central location makes it easily accessible by multiple means of transportation. Highways I-90, Route 495, and Route 290 all provide convenient access to multiple locations within the city. Ten daily MBTA commuter rail trains provide service between Worcester and Boston's Back Bay and South stations. Amtrak service is available from Union Station, with daily trains departing for destinations such as Boston, Chicago, and New York. The Worcester Bus Terminal is serviced by both Greyhound and Peter Pan Trailways, while local bus transportation is provided by the Worcester Regional Transit Authority. The Worcester Regional Airport is convenient to downtown and is open to private and business flights. The Port of Worcester is one of the nation's largest inland container yards, and its terminals serve as railheads for export or domestic shipments of containerized freight from New England to the West Coast.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

With its strong academic and technical education resources, research facilities, and manufacturing base, Worcester continues to prove an attractive site for new and relocating high-technology firms. Development projects announced or in the planning stages are expected to insure construction jobs in the region while also ensuring a continuing source of investment into the community.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Worcester metropolitan area labor force, 2004 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 243,500

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 10,300

manufacturing: 29,700

trade, transportation, and utilities: 45,300

information: 4,000

financial activities: 14,100

professional and business services: 29,100

educational and health services: 45,900

leisure and hospitality: 21,900

other services: 9,100

government: 34,200

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $15.71

Unemployment rate: 5.5% (March 2005)

Worcester: Economy

Largest employers (2004) Number of employees
EMC Corporation 7,200
UMass Memorial Health Care 7,195
UMass Medical School 6,040
Bertucci's Corporation 5,000
Fallon Community Health Plan 4,636
Waters Corp. 3,600
Worcester Public Schools 3,458
Allmerica Financial/The Hanover Insurance Company 2,305

Cost of Living

The cost of groceries, health care, utilities and transportation, and miscellaneous goods and services in Worcester is slightly above the national average.

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors in the Worcester area.

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $372,500

2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 114.6 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: 5% on earned income

State sales tax rate: 5% on most items; does not include food and clothing

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: None

Property tax rate: $31.44 per $1,000 (2004)

Economic Information: Worcester Area Chamber of Commerce, 33 Waldo Street, Worcester, MA 01608; telephone (508)753-2924