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Forever 128

A surge of hiring on the tech belt

By Scott Van Voorhis
Globe Correspondent / September 29, 2011

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Tech companies along Route 128 may not be hiring again like it was 1999, but they’ve clearly put the dark days of 2009 in their rearview mirrors.

As the national economy stumbles along, local companies - from fast-growing e-mail marketers to established software giants - are giving new meaning to the Interstate 95 corridor’s old name from the 1980s, America’s Technology Highway.

OK, let’s not get too nostalgic here - Silicon Valley long ago took over as technology’s global headquarters and Cambridge’s Kendall Square is a fierce competitor as well, luring away Biogen Idec and the local branch of Microsoft.

But a surge in new hiring indicates Route 128 is holding onto its edge, as a new generation makes the leap from start-ups to established players along the development-packed core between Burlington and Waltham.

“Route 128 is once again becoming that technology belt,’’ said Marcus Tgettis, head of recruiting at Constant Contact, an e-mail marketing company with a fast-expanding headquarters alongside the highway in Waltham. “There is plenty of talent.’’

While Bank of America gets ready to shed 30,000 jobs in global cuts that will probably not spare downtown Boston, a number of tech firms are adding jobs on 128, in some cases at a jaw-dropping rate.

Just ask Tgettis, who was recently lured over from Akamai Technologies by Constant Contact to fill a newly created post as director of talent acquisition.

Sounds like a fun gig, although Tgettis has a lot of talent to chase down.

Constant Contact plans to add 175 workers to its Waltham office this year, boosting the total past the 700 mark, according to a company spokesman. The hires range from Web developers to marketing executives.

To attract the best candidates, Constant Contact is offering some creative perks, such as letting employees spend 10 percent of their time “innovating,’’ whether it’s a hot new product or just a better way of doing things.

There’s even an annual innovation day on which everyone gets together and pitches their best ideas.

Other tech players are also expanding along Route 128, notes Brendan Carroll, research director at Richards Barry Joyce & Partners, a commercial real estate firm in Boston.

NetApp is expanding its footprint in Waltham, adding another 40,000 square feet, while A123 Systems has also found a new home in the city - moving into nearly 100,000 square feet - after making the jump from Watertown, Carroll notes.

And it’s not just the big guys who are expanding the payrolls, but the little guys as well.

Newton educational software startup TenMarks Education recently moved out to an office complex on Route 9 so it could be closer to 128.

The company is about to go on a hiring spree, from four employees to as many as 15, according to Andrew Joseph, its cofounder.

Being closer to the 128 corridor makes it easier to hire the sales and marketing talent in the suburbs, employees TenMarks now needs as it moves beyond the start-up phase, Joseph said.

It also fits with Joseph’s own lifestyle - he lives in Newton and has no desire to commute into Kendall Square every day.

“I am an entrepreneur, but I am not 26 years old,’’ Joseph notes. “There are a lot of people involved with early-stage companies that have families and who have moved out to the suburbs. It allows you to make it to the parent-teacher conferences and make it back to the office, and things like that.’’

Overall, the office vacancy rate along 128’s central corridor has dropped from a high of 20.5 percent in spring 2010 to 18.8 percent, Carroll said.

It is poised to drop down another notch, to 17.5 percent, once French software giant Dassault Systèmes completes its move into a new 27-acre campus along 128 in Waltham, he added.

And there are no signs of this growth leveling off, with the central 128 corridor projected to add another 8,600 jobs over the next two decades, notes Eric Bourassa, transportation manager of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

“One reason this area has higher growth than other areas is the concentration of technology companies,’’ he said.

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at sbvanvoorhis@hotmail.com.