Whether considering our highly educated workforce, robust payroll numbers, jobs, or employers, the 495/MetroWest region continues to offer a high return on investment for the commonwealth, employers, and residents; a vibrant and diverse employment base; and an excellent quality of life,” the report concludes.
BOSTON - Communities west of Boston and near Interstate 495 continue to enjoy commercial rents and home prices well below averages in the metropolitan Boston area despite steady population growth, according to a new report.
The 495/MetroWest Partnership’s Economic and Commercial Real Estate Report, released Tuesday at the Statehouse, found an increasing gap in affordability between properties in Boston and those in the partnership’s region. Lower costs, coupled with availability of real estate and below-average unemployment, indicate a strong economic climate in the MetroWest area, the report concluded.
Municipal officials, business executives and legislators from the region — which encompasses 35 communities along Interstate 495, as far north as Westford and as far south as Foxborough — gathered Tuesday for the group’s annual advocacy day. Senate President Karen Spilka of Ashland, who delivered the keynote address, said the report reflects significant changes to an area that was once agrarian and spread out.
“So much has happened over these last 10 years to help make this region of the state — which I think is not only the best in the commonwealth but the best in the country — a truly wonderful place to live, work and raise a family,” Spilka said.
Mean class A rents in the 495 belt were less than one-third the comparable rents in Boston in the fourth quarter of 2018, the largest disparity between the two metrics since at least 2010. Single-family homes are competitively priced, too: since 2008, the median price for a single-family home increased 23 percent in MetroWest and 92 percent in Boston and Cambridge.
The region continues to have hundreds of thousands of square feet available for businesses to lease at multiple locations, but job numbers appear strong in the report, too. MetroWest’s unemployment rate of 2.6 percent is about half a percentage point lower than the statewide rate, and the lowest it has been since 2000.
“Whether considering our highly educated workforce, robust payroll numbers, jobs, or employers, the 495/MetroWest region continues to offer a high return on investment for the commonwealth, employers, and residents; a vibrant and diverse employment base; and an excellent quality of life,” the report concludes.
Spilka pointed to significant growth in recent decades. The region’s population increased about 50 percent between 1970 and present day, and the total annual payroll jumped from $2.6 billion in 1980 to $24.5 billion in 2018, she said.
“The data shows the growing importance of the 495 and MetroWest region, from the $24.5 billion in regional payroll to the growth in commercial real estate and lab space,” said Paul Matthews, executive director of the Westborough-based 495/MetroWest Partnership, in a brief phone interview with the Daily News.
Despite the positive indicators, Spilka stressed in her remarks that the burgeoning region still faces numerous challenges, many of which are similar to those experienced across the state. Traffic can be suffocating. Affordable housing, even if better than Boston, is not as widely available as is needed.
“In MetroWest, we are clearly open to embracing and managing change, but our greatest challenge will be continuing to manage the growth,” Spilka said. “We must be really careful to continue to carefully steward our growth.”
She outlined several priorities she hopes to see taken up in the Legislature to improve quality of life in MetroWest and elsewhere. Lawmakers need to find consensus on addressing climate change, lowering prescription drug costs, and improving mental health services, she said.
The Senate President voiced hope that this session would finally see education reforms enacted, almost four years after the Foundation Budget Review Commission outlined crucial gaps in the existing formula that leave schools underfunded by as much as $1 billion. She also echoed House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s interest in considering various options to raise new transportation revenues.
“We know what the problems are. We know roughly what the price tag is. We know the longer we wait to fix, the higher the price tag goes up,” Spilka said. “Everything should be on the table.”