Good business

Ipswich officials, residents enjoy tight bond with two firms that have committed to the town

By David Rattigan
Globe Correspondent / April 7, 2011

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When he was considering switching companies in 2000, data architect Ron Trevarrow found Ebsco Publishing during an online search.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t realize it was in Ipswich,’’ he said.

He soon learned it was less than a half-mile from his home, and for the past decade the father of two has been able to enjoy a short commute while working at a job that is challenging, for a company determined to stay technologically competitive.

“I’ve been able to go to the track meets, the concerts, and the plays without ever having to say ‘I’m sorry, I’ve got to work,’ ’’ Trevarrow said.

Many of Ebsco’s north-of-Boston employees enjoy the lifestyle that comes with an easy commute, one of the determining factors when the company moved from Peabody in 1996.

The benefits of Ebsco’s downtown Ipswich location extend beyond those who work within the company’s three downtown buildings. Restaurants, coffee shops, retailers, dry cleaners, and other businesses enjoy having a 777-employee company within walking distance.

They also extend to the municipality itself, which has seen Ebsco not only rapidly expand its workforce, but also expand from two to four buildings plus a parking garage, with the assessed value increasing from $2.7 million in 1995 to $12.7 million in 2011.

There’s been a mutually beneficial relationship among Ipswich, Ebsco, and another large business that’s relatively new to town, New England Biolabs. Ebsco is the town’s largest employer, while New England Biolabs owns the town’s highest assessed property.

On Monday, those relationships will be the subject of a mobile workshop offered as part of the American Planning Association’s annual convention, hosted in Boston this Saturday through Tuesday. Titled “Quality of Life Spurs Economic Development,’’ the workshop will focus on the factors that attract businesses to quality-of-life locations, and on how businesses can participate in enhancing that quality of life.

“We’ve really benefited from having both of these businesses in town,’’ said Glenn Gibbs, Ipswich’s planning and development director.

Since moving to town in 2005, New England Biolabs has invested approximately $50 million in capital improvements to its corporate campus on the 145-acre estate formerly owned by The Salesians of Don Bosco.

The assessed value of New England Biolabs’ real property in 2004 was $2,438,300, according to Gibbs, and it has since climbed to $49,158,800, more than 2 percent of the town’s current total assessed property value. The company has also increased its workforce, from 200 to 284, with many of those jobs going to those who live in and near Ipswich.

In both cases, growing businesses were seeking room to expand, and were able to find property appropriate for that growth, and a municipality willing to accommodate them. Also in both cases, the town partnered with companies that had an interest in becoming part of the community.

When Ebsco relocated to fill its space needs in the mid-1990s, recalls co-founder Tim Collins, “We got a map out and put little pins where all the employees lived, because we wanted to do this in the way that had the least disruption on employees.’’ Ipswich was a geographic match, and some old mill buildings were coming up for sale.

“We had some resistance from employees that were along [Interstate] 95, because Ipswich is beautiful once you get here but there is that little stretch coming from Route 1 over,’’ Collins said. “Because of the campus feel that we have, employees responded well when they actually saw the buildings and saw what we had done.’’

While it wasn’t a requirement when the company set out to find a new home, Collins said the downtown location soon became a giant plus.

“I can walk a quarter-mile and get my hair cut during the day, and on the way back stop and get my watch fixed, or pick up a gift,’’ Collins said, noting the low vacancy rate downtown.

New England Biolabs CEO Jim Ellard said that maintaining a North Shore location was important to his company when it made the move from Beverly in 2005. Being on the North Shore provides easy access to Boston and Cambridge, hubs of biological science, but in a quiet, attractive location, with access to walking trails, the beach, and downtown.

“It’s a great place to be,’’ said Ellard, whose point is supported by The Scientist magazine, which named the company its top small biotech company in its 2010 Best Places to Work industry survey. To accommodate New England Biolabs, the town amended its Great Estates Bylaw, which allows new uses for large historic properties with an eye toward preserving the character of a handful of town parcels.

“We did it very carefully,’’ Gibbs said. He noted that the bylaw had to accommodate a part of Biolabs’ business that includes manufacturing. “There were all kinds of [safeguards] to satisfy concerns that were being raised, but we did come up with creating a mechanism that would end up working for them.’’

The requirements of the bylaw, such as setting aside 30 percent of the land for open space that was accessible to the public, preserving the nature of historic buildings, and maintaining the view from Route 1A, were things the company was happy to comply with.

“One of the founding principles of New England Biolabs has always been stewardship of the environment, and through this Great Estates Bylaw there seemed to be great synergy with Ipswich,’’ Ellard said. “We were both on the same page with our commitment to promoting sound ecological practices and preserving the environment. It really felt right.’’

Town-negotiated tax increment financing (TIF) agreements — a public financing method used as a subsidy for redevelopment — included a variety of arrangements with both businesses to benefit the community. For example, Ebsco agreed to provide the schools with access to its periodical reference service for 15 years at no cost, and to hold a semi-annual job fair. New England Biolabs makes annual $10,000 grants to the schools for the science program, and $30,000 grants to the town to protect open space, in addition to a one-time contribution of $1 million for open space protection at 214 County Road if it goes up for sale before 2019.

For both firms, the commitment to community has gone beyond the written agreement.

For instance, as part of the TIF agreement, Ebsco provided the town with an access easement to build a municipal riverwalk and park on the Ipswich River, and didn’t balk when construction complications required the company to pony up an additional $150,000.

“It was easy for us to agree with that — we embraced it,’’ said Collins, whose property is made available for community events such as the annual chowder festival. “We think it’s an important part of who we are as a business.’’

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