Economic expert bullish on Lynn

Bluestone touts strategy for successful growth to city's business partnership

September 12, 2012
By Sean Leonard/The Daily Item

Why would anyone choose to live at Boston's pricey Rowes Wharf when they could live on the Lynn waterfront at perhaps half the cost and with an equally beautiful ocean view, and still be within 30 minutes of the city by commuter ferry?

That was the rhetorical question asked by Dr. Barry Bluestone, director of the Dukakis Center of Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University and founding dean of Northeastern's School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. He gave an optimistic vision of Lynn's potential to city and business leaders Wednesday morning at a Lynn Business Partnership forum at the Eastern Bank offices on the Lynnway.

City development officials hope to turn this park near Central square into an amphitheater, one of many projects slated for the downtown area that has local economists and professors optimistic about Lynn's future.
City development officials hope to turn this park near Central square into an amphitheater, one of many projects slated for the downtown area that has local economists and professors optimistic about Lynn's future. (Courtesy Photo)

Bluestone, leader of a think tank that studied Lynn last spring, said the city is well positioned for economic growth and development. During the past year, he said, he has visited city and business leaders here five times, something he said he has rarely done in any community because of time constraints.

See also: Cowdell points out Lynn's future

And he explained why.

"When I was growing up in Detroit in the 1950s and '60s, Detroit was the richest city in America. It had the highest family income of any city in the country; of course that was based on the auto industry and the UAW, which took the profits of the auto industry and spread the wealth.

"Lynn was also one of the most rich communities in the whole country, in part because of GE's Aircraft Engine plant, which I studied very closely in a book I wrote in the 1970s called 'Aircraft Industry Dynamics.' Because of my roots in Detroit and because of Lynn's history, this is a city I love being in ... I fell in love with Lynn, fell in love with its people and fell in love with its prospects."

Keys to economic success

Bluestone explained that his team at Northeastern, after exhaustive interviews with members of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NIOP) and CORENET, a trade group of commercial site specialists, developed a 230-question community self-assessment survey. This is the survey he and his team administered in Lynn at the request of the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce, and which has also been given to approximately 60 other Bay State communities and 20 others as far as Florida and Washington State.

"We came to Lynn and went through this entire (survey), about what you're doing in terms of lease rates, wage rates, schools, roads and transportation, how long it takes to get zoning variances and building permits ..."

He said his team took that information and processed it through a computer at Northeastern with software that analyzes it and produces a report comparing the city to others studied.

"Lynn looks pretty good on a lot of stuff and needs some help in other areas," he said, noting he presented the survey results several times, to the Lynn Area Chamber, the city and during a lengthy meeting with State Sen. Thomas McGee, chairman of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation.

Bluestone said the essential keys for economic development, which he bases on those interviews with NIOP and CORNET, are a streamlined permitting process, and a city administration and business community that works together.

"In this new, modern global economy, everything is moving at warp speed and we can't delay," he said. "If a town takes three years to approve a zoning variance, goodbye; if a building inspector takes too much time approving the electrical capacity of a building, goodbye ... Time and time again what (commercial site specialists) look for is a city that has an administration, a chamber of commerce and a partnership that will make this an inviting place and break down barriers."

Tax incentives, he said, are always sought, but are seldom if ever what makes or breaks a company's decision where to locate or expand.

A 'Fertile Crescent'

Following up the Lynn survey, Bluestone said his graduate students next January will be working with city and business officials - free of charge - to ensure it is part of regional economic growth. He said his students have been working closely the past few years with Quincy, which is in the midst of a redevelopment boom.

"I was in my office and looking at a big map of Greater Boston. And I said to myself 'Here's Lynn, here's Logan Airport, here's South Boston and its new innovation center ... and here's Quincy, all within 7 or 8 miles of each other. Then I remembered way back to my high school days ... something about the Middle East and Fertile Crescent Mesopotamia. I thought wow, bing-bing-bing, hook Lynn up with a ferry service and you've got a Fertile Crescent. You've got a whole new region that can grow together, and build new jobs, facilities and transportation."

Bluestone focused on the waterfront in sharing his vision of what Lynn can become.

"Many people may love the thought of living in downtown Boston, but can live here on Lynn's waterfront at half the cost of what it is to live at Rowes Wharf, with the same view, maybe even a better view, and still be able to get into the city (by ferry) in 30 minutes or less," he said.

Manufacturing on the rise

Lastly, Bluestone told the Lynn group about positive manufacturing news he plans to formally announce today at a plant in Avon, along with Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray. He said he will be presenting an update of his 2007 report "Staying Power: The Future of Manufacturing in Massachusetts."

"I don't think I've ever written a report that I'm more proud of or excited or optimistic about," he said. "Manufacturing is coming back big time in Massachusetts. People don't recognize we have 250,000 manufacturing jobs, 7,500 manufacturers in the state and we are now growing manufacturing as a share of state product in Massachusetts for the first time since World War II."

He added that two-thirds of manufacturers surveyed plan to expand in the next five years and 70 percent plan to expand employment in that time, and that 70 percent of manufacturing jobs require less than a four-year college degree.

"Lynn has manufacturing and it still can have manufacturing," he said. "That's very important particularly given its demographics."

Sean Leonard may be reached at

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