Business Park Grows Into 21st Century
Bankers & Tradesman, week of July 17, 2006
New Bedford Property Has Seen Considerable Changes Since Industrial Foundation’s Campaign Began in 1998.
Despite approaching its 50th anniversary, the New Bedford Business Park displays more elements of the new millennium these days than of the old. “We don’t have any belching smokestacks,” Executive Director Thomas G. Davis noted last week of the 1300-acre complex. “It has a very modern look and feel.”
Having opened in 1960, the park certainly has had to cope with aging infrastructure and overcome a sharp decline in the manufacturing sector that once made up the backbone of the southeastern Massachusetts economy. Straddling Dartmouth and New Bedford, the park was devastated following the recession of the early 1990s, with several business failures leading to increased vacancy rates and concerns that the sprawling development may have outlived its usefulness.
“The park was definitely run down and tired,” acknowledged Peter DeWalt, whose family-owned printing company has had a presence there since 1964. Security was non-existent, illegal dumping was a common occurrence and the roadway network was suffering from decades of wear and tear.
Rather than cede its mission, however, the operating Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation opted to face the challenge head on, retaining Davis in 1998 as part of a renewed campaign to revitalize and even expand the park. A former Exxon Corp. official, Davis cited the dedication of the GNBIF members and a willingness to redirect the park’s focus as keys to the repositioning effort. Zoning was changed to encourage office users and companies doing business beyond simple manufacturing, while Davis undertook an immediate tour of other multi-tenanted business parks to identify best practices and novel ideas that could be used to lure a divergent employer base.
“We had a turnaround plan in less than a month [after my arrival],” Davis recalled, and the association wasted little time getting the program in place. One important element, he said, was retaining a nationally known real estate firm to promote the park, and that was accomplished via the hiring of Richard Borden, at the time with Insignia/ESG, but now of CB Richard Ellis after the latter firm acquired Borden’s company shortly after winning the New Bedford Business Park assignment. CB Richard Ellis access to tenants globally and a professional marketing approach have proven valuable, said Davis, praising Borden for his ability to detail pluses of the park to prospects and also in closing deals once a buyer has been identified.
“Rick has done a very good job for us” said Davis. During the last seven years, the New Bedford Business Park has had 21 purchases of new lots, not to mention 11 building expansions, helping employment soar from about 1,500 workers to 4,500 today.
For his part, Borden credited Davis for bringing fresh energy to the complex, which prior to that was “dormant and dated” he said.
“Tom is a tremendous promoter, and he has really delivered on everything he said he would,” Borden said. It has become one of the nicest places to do business at in southeastern Massachusetts today.” New Bedford Business Park now has 36 companies on site, including Polaroid Corp., AFC Cable Systems, Aerovox, Head Headgear, Zapp USA and the Acushnet Co., parent to golfing giant Titleist.
The addition of tree new roads has opened up another 150 acres of developable land, Borden estimated, opportunities that are now being made available to interested parties. The goal, he said, is to complete the sales of those lots during the next three to five years, while Davis hopes to see another 2,500 new jobs created for the park during that frame.
‘A Great Park’
CBRE and the GNBIF are working cohesively to lure new business, but existing companies also have been a force for increasing employment and developing new space at what is currently a 3.15 million-square-foot complex. AFC Cable Systems just opened a 200,000-square-foot facility to bring space occupied at the park above 40,000 square feet, and Titleist golf balls produces annually are now made at the New Bedford Business Park. Titleist is the largest single employer in the park, with 1,425, and occupies some 400,000 square feet of space.
“It’s a great park,” said Titleist Vice President Raymond L. Cebula, whose 27 year career with the company included being on hand when the firm opened the first new building on the Dartmouth side of the park in the mid-1990s. Titleist has long benefited from the region’s dedicated and skilled workforce, he said, but the park itself was lagging behind other properties until Davis was brought on.
Not only has some $750,00 been invested to improve landscaping, signage, roadways and the telecommunications network, Cebula said he has been impressed with GNBIF’s willingness to assist companies on permitting and regulatory issues and in structuring incentive programs such as tax increment financing that allows for economically viable growth. Davis also has bettered interaction between tenants and the park, Cebula said, to the point that most issues can be addressed with a phone call to Davis’ office. “The awareness and response are much better” he said.
DeWalt said New Bedford Business Park has always offered his company good access to its markets and the area in general generates a quality of life such that Reynolds-DeWalt Printing has never seriously entertained relocating elsewhere. Even so, DeWalt concurred that the business park was badly in need of an upgrade prior to 1998.
Beyond its own efforts, Davis said regional initiatives to peddle Greater New Bedford as a viable business destination are paying off, including the concerted program to recast the area as the SouthCoast portion of Massachusetts. The SouthCoast Development Partnership has run series of advertisements and other promotions to better define the area and apprise prospective companies of the strong workforce, reduced housing costs and other elements deemed attractive.
“It has helped,” said Davis. “We’re clearly on the map now.” Stepped-up efforts are under way to help marry the business community with training and educational institutions such as the University of Massachusetts branch in Dartmouth, and to take advantage of the traditional economic engines such as the regions rich maritime heritage.
Still, while the New Bedford Business Park is doing its best to help old-line businesses, Davis stressed that the region’s future will rely heavily on developing technologies and attracting skilled employers, requiring constant vigilance to ensure the area is not overlooked. One wish-list item that GNBIF is currently pursuing is to bring a hotel to the park, said Davis, who also occasionally still tours competing properties to identify emerging ideas that might further strengthen the New Bedford site.
The hotel concept has met with mixed reviews – Cebula is on board but DeWalt maintains downtown New Bedford would be a better location – bust most spoken to said they are supportive of GNBIF’s overall strategy going forward, including a focus on office tenants and clean technologies. “I really like what is happening,” said Cebula. “The park has come a long way, and I would absolutely recommend it to any company looking to come down here.”