By Adam Steiner
FRAMINGHAM – As we make our way through the COVID pandemic, the recovering economy is an opportunity for the City of Framingham to reinvent its approach to business. It is not enough for Framingham to be open for business; we need to be all-in for business! We need to be fully invested in our business community, attracting and retaining the small, local institutions that make our city vibrant, and national corporations that choose Framingham as a base of operations.
Framingham has taken several small but important steps to support commercial activity over the past 4 years. We have restrained growth in our tax rate, making Framingham more affordable for residents and businesses while maintaining essential services. We adjusted our sign ordinance to be more consistent with standard practices. We have created mixed-use zoning regulations to allow more flexibility in places like Nobscot Plaza. These are good first steps but much more is needed.
We need to lift up our existing businesses. One of the absolutely essential elements of being a leader in our city needs to be a relentless, passionate focus on the health and strength of our businesses.
The good news is that we have so many amazing businesses in Framingham, including many that have reinvented themselves during COVID and are currently thriving. We need to do our part to help these companies make the transition to a post-covid economy. We also need to aggressively recruit new businesses to come to Framingham, making it clear through our policies and approach to incentivizing new growth in Framingham that our city is an active partner in their success
In my conversations with local shop owners and leaders of our bigger corporations, a common refrain is the challenge of finding employees in this new normal, support in growing their customer base, and the importance of a safe, clean environment for customers.
I have heard loud and clear that there is a need for workforce housing, the need for skilled employees who can live, work, and play in Framingham. We need to think creatively to find ways that we can make Framingham a place where employees choose to live, raise a family, and invest in our city. It is not enough to simply let apartment construction run wild by greenlighting these developments while failing to aggressively assist other types of development– or, for instance, incentivizing the building of condominiums, townhouses, and small single-family homes rather than the apartments and mansions we see currently dominating new construction. We need to be strategic and collaborative; the fabric and landscape of our city depends on it.
There are so many areas for potential collaboration to grow our city centers and enrich our neighborhoods. We must take a closer look at projects that will breathe fresh life into existing infrastructure – perhaps a mixed-use commercial/residential project that will bring additional life to our commercial areas at 9/90 and the tech park. We need to look closely at our existing transportation and seek improvements so that more areas of Framingham are desirable as places to live for young enthusiastic employees.
Specifically, near my district, I think about the redevelopment of Nobscot Plaza, which has sat dormant for years but may finally be reaching a turning point. The mixed-use project that is permitted for Nobscot has so much potential to be a new hub for Framingham if we work closely with the new developers to make it happen in a way that benefits the whole neighborhood.
We need to think creatively about the benefits of alternative transportation. This would include expanded MWRTA service to support businesses – an idea that would serve all residents of Framingham as well. We need to think about the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, which would run parallel to Edgell Road from Route 20 to Framingham Centre – not just as a place for a leisurely stroll with the dog, or ride a bike but as a viable way to get to and from work, particularly if it can be linked with other safe riding routes in the future. We need to work with our state delegation to make the Framingham Commuter Rail an inexpensive, reliable alternative to driving into Boston.
We also need to recognize that great schools are not only our responsibility as a community, they are an essential ingredient in our economic health. They prepare young people to be our entrepreneurs of the future and they attract young professionals to settle down in Framingham. We need to continue to provide the resources that Framingham Public Schools need as an investment in our entire city’s future. Great schools are an essential investment that help our businesses succeed.
The key to our success is open and consistent dialogue between our city leadership and our business community.
I am confident our Mayor-elect, Charlie Sisitsky, recognizes the importance of these relationships and will demand it when identifying a new Director of our Department of Planning and Community Development. I, and the entire City Council, will be prepared to work with that person to ACTIVELY reach out to and support our existing businesses and to recruit new enterprises to come to Framingham.
2022 needs to be the year of economic development in Framingham. We have the resources to make it happen. We just need the will and the attention to this as a top priority for our city and I sincerely hope to be an active leader of this critical effort as the city councilor representing District 3.
Adam Steiner is the current District 3 City Councilor.