By Joe DiFazio
The Patriot Ledger
Posted Dec 28, 2018 at 3:14 PM
Updated Dec 28, 2018 at 4:55 PM
The rumbling, beeping, jackhammering of construction in Quincy and other South Shore communities is annoying to some people. But town and city leaders say it’s music to their ears and a sign of economic health for 2019 and beyond.
It means more houses, apartments and condos are being built. And housing, they say, will eventually bring new industry, more small businesses and jobs.
“We’ve got good momentum going in Quincy Center and we want to use that on other parts of the city,” Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch said.
Quincy, Braintree, Weymouth and other South Shore communities are looking to cash in on housing and industry, as residents and businesses get priced out of Boston and Cambridge.
Analysts say several business sectors are in good position to expand on the South Shore in the next few years.
“Health care will continue to both grow and evolve because that industry is changing so quickly in terms of what they have to do to survive and be profitable and compete,” said Peter Forman, president and CEO of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. “It’s certainly a large employer.”
A 2018 Southeastern Massachusetts jobs growth report commissioned by MassHire Workforce called health care “one of the most important industries to the region’s success.” During the past seven years, health care and social assistance has added 18,000 jobs in southeastern Massachusetts, making up more than a third of growth during that time, the report said.
The report predicts the number of jobs for home health aides will grow more than 31 percent and for nurse practitioners by more than 28 percent through 2024.
Betsy Cowan, chief of economic development for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said other, more behind-the-scenes health care jobs, such as data processing, could also grow. The public agency is working on a regional economic development plan for Greater Boston for 2020.
She said the planning council is looking at the possibility of companies in the life sciences industry being priced out of Cambridge and relocating to the South Shore.
“Kendall Square is becoming unaffordable for a lot of companies,” Cowan said. “They’re seeing an opportunity to move out and then to engage with a workforce that might not be able to afford the inner core life in Cambridge.”
Tim Cahill, president and CEO of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce, said Quincy needs to push for those companies.
“We need to up our game so people know that Quincy has got everything that Cambridge has, everything that the Seaport has, at a lower price point,” he said.
Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan pointed to Channel Fish Processing relocating to Braintree as the type of move that can get the ball rolling for more development. Every company the South Shore can attract will inspire other moves, he said.
“Businesses bring employment opportunity, revenue and momentum. They are force multipliers in bringing other service businesses around it, such as restaurants and dry cleaning,” Sullivan said.
The jobs growth report also identified the technical service industry, finance and insurance and manufacturing as providing new opportunities for South Shore workers. A third of people with manufacturing jobs on the South Shore are over age 55 and their employers will need workers to replace them as they retire, the report said.
Dean Rizzo, executive director of the MassHire South Shore Workforce Board, said the board has been working to education job seekers, including high school students, about available manufacturing jobs.
“There are so many types of roles in that industry, we’re looking to change the perception of it as an old dirty job,” Rizzo said.
The region’s cheaper rents and proximity to Boston is an attraction for new business, but Forman said there needs to be a holistic approach to help them thrive here.
Haemonetics, a blood management company founded in Braintree, bolted this month for Boston. The company once had a manufacturing arm in Braintree which moved abroad and its headquarters had shrunk to around 200 employees on a 17-acre campus. The company cited access to transportation and desire to be closer to other companies in the medical industry as some of the reasons for the move.
“Yes we can offer cheaper rents, but we have to pay attention to the other needs of businesses. That’s what we’re pushing other towns to do,” Forman said.
Housing is seen as one possible stumbling block to economic growth on the South Shore. A 2018 housing report commissioned by the South Shore Chamber of Commerce said that in order to have even 1 percent economic growth by 2030, the South Shore would have to add 44,000 homes, apartments and condos.
“It’s the connection between housing and economic development,” Cowan, of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said. “If you want to significantly increase your commercial tech space by adding additional businesses and by recruiting more workers, there is going to be a question about where those workers are going to live.”
Katherine Levine Einstein, a public policy and political science professor at Boston University, said that lack of housing can stifle economic growth in the region.
“If people can’t move to affordable housing, it limits the ability of municipalities to attract workers,” she said.
A South Shore Chamber economic report said building more housing, especially mass transit-oriented housing in mixed-use developments, helps attract and keep younger workers on the South Shore.
These types of developments also can attract baby boomers who are close to retirement and looking to downsize in an area that is more walkable, the report said. When the retirees sell, more single-family housing becomes available for families looking to move to the South Shore.
Forman said Quincy and Weymouth have done a good job of creating more housing.
“Weymouth this year adopted a new overlay zoning in some commercial retail corridors because they needed some reinvestment and were looking pretty old and tired,” Forman said. “So they kind of rethought how they zoned along those corridors, and adopted a new plan, which has led already to some proposals for new housing. And I think you’re going to see that in some other towns.”
Those zoning changes have helped spur development in places like Weymouth Landing, where there is a commuter rail station. The development at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station, Union Point, has increased housing stock by hundreds of homes in Weymouth.
“We’re looking at this strategically. We don’t want to overdevelop Weymouth. We want to keep residential neighborhoods residential. … It’s a mature suburban community with some commercial areas in it,” Robert Luongo, Weymouth director of planning and community development, said. “But, if towns like Weymouth don’t have some commercial growth we can’t grow our revenue base.”
Quincy Center, where there is access to public transportation, has taken advantage of a building boom, breaking ground or reaching agreements on more than 400 apartments and condominiums in the past four years.
“The combination of multiunit housing near the MBTA is helping fuel a renaissance in Quincy,” Rizzo said.
Forman said zoning changes are being considered in places such as Norwell to spruce up some of its industrial space, and an initiative called Reimagine Rockland is looking at commercial and residential development for its downtown.
Koch, the Quincy mayor, said that while new construction is helping Quincy’s economy, there’s a fine line to how much the city can support.
“The Boston area needs more housing and Quincy is very hot right now, but it’s all about trying to find a balance,” Koch said. “We’re open to doing the right projects where development is needed but not overdevelop.”
Overdevelopment is a fear among municipal leaders because of complaints about traffic, as more and more commuters hit the road.
But Rizzo, of MassHire, said that one way to ease South Shore traffic congestion would be to bring quality jobs to the region to reduce the number of workers traveling into Boston.
“To have a successful economic environment, you need a mix of ingredients,” Rizzo said. “Quality transportation, quality jobs, quality workers and quality of life.”