WORCESTER, Mass. - It was a home run for New England’s second largest city when Worcester was chosen to be the new home for the Red Sox AAA affiliate.
This announcement was another indication that Worcester is a city on the move, remaking itself from its history as a manufacturing hub to a destination for high tech businesses, higher education, and even haute cuisine.
The outlook wasn’t always so bright as factories closed and residents moved away.
Worcester’s new chapter can be linked to the decision to locate the UMass Medical School there back in the 1970s.
Today, the campus, on the eastern edge of the city and on the banks of Lake Quinsigamond, continues to grow and be a magnet for cutting edge scientific research.
Dr. Michael Collins, the school’s chancellor, said the medical school generates close to a billion dollars a year in revenue.
The school started with just 16 students who were pursuing primary care. Now it’s an internationally known research facility and home to a Nobel Prize winner.
“If you look our bio-tech park, where start up companies are thriving, you look at the presence of a large medical school, and those entities that want to do science, that want to be on the cutting edge of science, want to be proximate to the medical school,” explained Dr. Collins.
That would include companies like Mustang Bio which makes customized cancer fighting drugs. They moved to Worcester last May and already have 30 employees.
Kurt Kniss, the company’s chief technology officer, said they looked all over the Boston area when they were looking for appropriate space to research and manufacture their drugs. Worcester “stood out for us because it was the right size, but frankly, it was the also the right environment.”
Worcester’s robust economy is a far cry from the city’s image as a manufacturing center that seemed to by dying a slow death. The new vitality is a welcome change, but it’s also causing some growing pains.
All over the city, construction crews are working on new development projects.
Joshua Croke is part of a new generation of city leaders. A graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, he decided to stay and launched “Action Worcester”, a group promoting inclusive development.
“We see some of the areas, like Boston and New York, and you know those cities and those communities have displaced a decent amount of people because of cost,” explained Croke. “I don’t want to see that happen in Worcester.”
It’s all about sharing the bounty. And while a new ballpark and high-rise buildings are captivating, City Councilor Sean Rose says his constituents don’t want to be forgotten.
“All of this economic development, and of all of these things that we’re doing are great, but some of my residents in my district just want their roads repaired.”
Another challenge is keeping up with the need for an educated workforce in a large urban school system. Worcester school superintendent Maureen Binienda told Boston 25 all 9th grades will be taking a new class this year, “Introduction to College and Career”.
School officials believe this will help students from all backgrounds better understand how higher education works.
Still, keeping up with fast paced growth, instead of fighting stagnation, isn’t a bad spot to be in.
“I always hoped that we would have a renaissance,” said, Binienda, a lifelong resident. She remembers when the city had some buzz. “I remember as a child, in the fourth grade, all the stores were there, and you would shop and have a frappe and a brownie somewhere, and you would just be so excited because you would see all the people.”
Now as people do come back, there’s an infectious spirit taking hold.
“Cities have their moments, and this is the city of Worcester’s moment,” said Dr. Collins.
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