Worcester Business Journal
With its historic buildings lining Main Street and surrounding its common, downtown Worcester has an old feel to it recalling the days when shoppers and workers crowded the sidewalks.
Inside of these century-old structures, and some contemporary ones, businesses from one of the most cutting-edge industries – technology – have been setting up shop. They have been drawn to the area by nearby amenities, advantageous location, and access to talent, helping them get the best workers available. With new companies moving in, one of the early adopters of the downtown tech wave would like to see faster internet speeds in the neighborhood, to improve infrastructure for the tech companies in town.
Something of a trailblazer, in 2010, Helder Machado moved his IT consulting firm Machado Consulting to the fifth floor of one of those buildings, 32 Franklin St., the former Worcester Chamber of Commerce Building, built in 1925.
“I remember telling some of my friends, ‘I’m starting a business, and I’m going to be headquartered in Worcester.’ They laughed,” said Machado, a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
They suggested he start his business somewhere closer to Boston, like Marlborough or Westborough.
“I said. ‘You know what, I really like Worcester.’ I saw tremendous potential back then,” said Machado.
More than a decade later, more tech companies have called downtown Worcester home.
“A lot of eyes are on Worcester. It’s the place to be,” said Will Kelleher, principal at Kelleher & Sadowsky Associates, a real estate firm in downtown Worcester.
The firm has helped lease space to firms like Mustang Bio, ComputerVault, and Xcxeedance, which all have offices in One Mercantile, the former Unum building, a contemporary structure built on the site of the former Worcester Center Galleria.
Over at 20 Franklin St., the nonprofit Worcester Business Development Corp. purchased the former Telegram & Gazette Building in 2011 with the aim of activating the area. In addition to Quinsigamond Community College and WGBH, the building is home to ten24 Digital Solutions, Bluefin Technology Partners, and Blustream.
The Printers Building, at 44 Portland St. was rehabilitated by Davis Publications in 2016, and in addition to a number of cultural nonprofits like ArtsWorcester, makerspace Technocopia, and radio station WICN is home to tech companies BitSpartan and Embue.
Joffrey Smith launched his insurtec company Concordia Exchange on Jan. 24 in a 123-year-old downtown building, which he bought for the business and his financial advisory firm, Joffrey Smith Financial Group.
Smith, a former Worcester city councilor, wants to bring high-paying jobs to downtown Worcester and give his employees the option to live nearby and make use of the amenities downtown has to offer.
The restaurants, bars, and entertainment in downtown Worcester are a draw to companies who say employees value having nearby things to do after work.
“Being in the suburbs is not the same,” said Kelleher, whose firm also deals with properties in MetroWest. “Employers want that cutting-edge walkable city feel.”
Machado is impressed by the amenities near his Franklin Street office and said they help to attract talent.
“The Hanover Theatre was a great piece that was really great for the city, and then it was some of these restaurants, and then the beer garden opened up,” said Machado, who is looking forward to a company event at Far Shot Worcester, an axe-throwing facility opened in 2021 across Worcester Common from his office.
“When I first came to Worcester, people would go to college here, and then ship right out,” Machado said, “Now, what we’re seeing here is more people are staying.”
Recruiting and retaining talent
With 15 colleges and universities in Central Massachusetts, including WPI, the talent being developed in the area is attractive to employers.
Machado wants to help develop local-born talent.
He has a program to train people on the job to work in IT and is planning to launch a nonprofit to help people who were excluded from local vocational-technical schools to gain the skills needed to work in IT.
Delcie Bean, who opened an office for his Hadley-based company Paragus Strategic I.T. in One Mercantile on Feb. 15, said he found employees for the new location through a partnership with Nichols College in Dudley.
“Worcester has come a long way in a short period of time,” said Bean.
This, combined with a more reasonable cost of living in Worcester than in the Boston area, has attracted talent from elsewhere in the state.
Several of Bean’s new hires are from the Boston area and joined the firm to escape the high cost of living in Boston. While Worcester’s cost of living has been rising, it is still much lower than in Boston or Cambridge.
Bean was attracted to the cost of leasing space in Worcester.
“It’s a fraction of the cost of Boston or even Hartford,” he said.
Although office space in Worcester is more expensive than in some MetroWest towns, clients are willing to pay more for the location, Kelleher said.
“It’s a flight to quality,” he said.
Although bullish on Worcester. Machado looks forward to Worcester getting high-speed fiber optic internet.
“I know for a lot of tech companies, they need high-speed internet, ” he said.
In 2020, the Worcester Regional Research Bureau published a report on Worcester internet speeds, saying the local economy was being impeded by slower speeds. WRRB encouraged the City of Worcester to explore developing its own municipal broadband network.
“If I had the ear of anybody with regards to infrastructure, I would want to put a very high-speed network here. I mean, you can get relatively good speed with cable, but fiber optic is the way to go,” Machado said.
In December, Verizon announced it would bring its fiber optic network to Worcester, though a timetable has not been announced.
For Machado, the number one factor of being in Worcester is the location.
“Location-wise, it couldn’t be better, ” he said, “Within an hour or two hours, you can be anywhere. Any of the major cities in New England and cover other areas as well.”