Worcester Business Journal

June 25, 2018

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8 Worcester Business Journal | June 25, 2018 | wbjournal.com Worcester housing A year after a Harrington nurse was stabbed, few hospitals have implemented enhanced security BY GRANT WELKER Worcester Business Journal News Editor Despite the buzz, the Metro Worcester economy has yet to yield robust growth, compared to local and national peers L ong caught in Boston's shad- ow and for decades trying to forge a new reputation for it- self, Worcester is eager to find reasons to tout its economic progress – even if it is just a new restau- rant or construction project start. But the hype around Worcester can belie what economic results show. Metro Worcester's growth and pros- perity compared to the 10 closest-sized regions by population nationally can temper the heightened talk of Greater Worcester's full-blown renaissance, ac- cording to a Worcester Business Journal analysis of 28 indicators of the economy and quality of life. "Worcester's doing OK, but I wouldn't call it a boom," said omas White, a professor of economics and global stud- ies at Assumption College in Worcester. Worcester vs. national peers WBJ compared Metro Worcester – defined by the U.S. Census as Worcester County and Windham County, Conn. – with the 10 metropolitan areas nation- ally with the nearest population. ose 10 peers are: Albany, N.Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Bakersfield, Calif.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Fresno, Calif.; Greenville, S.C.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Omaha, Neb.; Tuc- son, Ariz.; and Tulsa, Okla. e Worcester region trails these 10 national peers in key economic indicators: new housing (ranked 11th with 1,785 new units annually), per-capita income growth (ranked 8th with 48-percent growth), the size of its economy (ranked 7th with $42 billion in gross domestic product), and population growth (ranked 8th with 2.8-percent growth). Yet, public and businesses officials oen will take single successes like Worcester Regional Airport adding a new destination and use it to tout a booming Worcester. In May, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, a Shrewsbury native, spoke at a state economic development sum- mit at the DCU Center and mentioned "cranes on the skyline" in Worcester as a sign of its progress – except Worcester has no cranes on its skyline these days. Worcester City Manager Ed Augustus, who has been one of the key figures in the push for a revitalization, said more work needs to be done. "Is it exactly where I want to be? No. But the wind is at our back," Augustus said. "We're always hungry. We're always trying to do more." Worcester vs. itself Much of the talk around the so-called Worcester renaissance isn't comparing the metro region to national peers, the state average or even other New England cities like Springfield and Hartford. Much of the buzz around Worcester revolves around the fact that Worcester – yes, that Worcester with its longheld rundown reputation – isn't what some people remember from another era, with notable new restaurants and a mix of uses where the Galleria mall once stood downtown. "ese are my favorite stories," Augus- tus said. "People who haven't been here in 10 or 20 years, and they're blown away." And, yes, looking through that narrow lens, Worcester is doing better. In the past five years, Metro Worcester's GDP is up 19 percent, and new housing starts are up 57 percent, although the popu- lation only increased 2 percent (the 10 national peers are up 3 percent). "I'm not necessarily chasing what another metro area looks like," Augustus said. Even in some instances, Metro Worcester compares favorably to its na- tional peers, particularly in quality-of-life metrics: it ranks 2nd in property crime and 5th in violent crime, 3rd in poverty rate, and 4th in educational attainment. Metro Worcester's 3.6-percent unem- ployment rate ranks 4th while its 2017 median home price of $252,700 ranks 3rd. Yet, even the Worces- ter-against-itself comparison doesn't always hold up when looking back more than five years. From 2003-2005, Metro Worcester built 10,919 new homes; from 2015-2017, the region built 4,776. Within the Worcester city limits, the population of 185,677 remains below the high mark of 203,000 set in 1950. Views on Worcester's progress depend on perspective. Worcester Regional Air- port will enjoy its third commercial air- line come October, but 30 years ago the airport had five. e Worcester Railers generated plenty of buzz as a new hockey Continued on Page 10 The Taste of Shrewsbury Street on June 19 has helped create buzz around Worcester's restaurant scene, as new upscale and farm-to-table options have brought new attention to the city. Yet that hype around Metro Worcester's cultural offerings has yet to translate into significant economic growth compared to the region's peers. Ed Augustus, Worcester city manager PHOTO/ARIANA AUBUCHON renaissance OVERHYPED Worcester's

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