Natick evaluates its economic strengths and weaknesses

By Brian Benson | The MetroWest Daily News | August 7, 2012

Town leaders Monday began reviewing results of an economic development self-assessment, rating the town on dozens of factors from transportation to access to the development permitting process.

Town and business leaders met in June to respond to questions posed by the study, which was funded by the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce and done through Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy.

“This process is invaluable,” selectmen Chairman Paul Joseph, who leads the town’s Economic Development Committee. “The conversations (between the town and businesses) this has stimulated and will continue to stimulate is most important.”

The committee on Monday reviewed some of the preliminary results of the study, which compared Natick to other communities.

The study indicates the town had a lower percentage of available sites near a limited-access highway but more near public transportation than other towns. Natick scored above average for having commuter rail in town and several colleges nearby.

Natick was on par with other communities in enforcement of codes and maintaining streets and sidewalks near development sites, but it takes longer in Natick to complete site plan and zoning variance reviews, the study found.

Community Development Director Patrick Reffett said the town is working on improving zoning bylaws and has an intern developing a guide to permitting for prospective businesses.

Committee member Scott Laughlin said he would like to see a comparison with Wellesley or Newton.

Joseph said he hopes to learn more about the communities to which Natick is being compared. The town will have discussions with Northeastern researchers about the results and the study’s methodology, he said.

Joseph said that, for example, “available sites” only looks at vacant properties. Evaluating the proximity of all sites to highways may present a different picture, he said.

The survey, though, helps town leaders identify areas to focus their efforts, Joseph said.

“Economic development in 2012 is a sales process,” he said. “We are competing. We can’t rest on our laurels.”

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