SOMERVILLE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE INNOVATION FORUM A BIG SUCCESS:City needs to move forward on zoning to attract life science companies.  

Photo: Forum panelists (L-R) Robert Coughlin, President and CEO of MassBio; Kermit Baker, Chief Economist for the American Institute of Architects, Peter Bekarian, Managing Director for Jones Lang LaSalle and moderator Somerville Attorney Adam Dash, Esq.

 Photo by Kulbako


Somerville, MA – This past Tuesday, February 28th, the Somerville Chamber of Commerce held a forum The Next Innovation Center: Why Not Somerville? Over 130 people packed the Holiday Inn to hear industry experts explain what biotech companies are looking for and what Somerville needs to do to attract the next generation of companies.


“The Chamber was proud to host an in-depth conversation on the importance of economic development in Somerville. It was a great opportunity for the community to hear from industry leaders on the current market trends and how the City of Somerville can become the next innovation center.” said Chamber President/CEO Stephen Mackey.  


The forum was comprised of three 10 minute presentations “Innovation in Massachusetts: What’s Next?’ given by Robert Coughlin, President and CEO of MassBio, “The Real Estate Outlook: Nationally, and Locally,” by Kermit Baker, Chief Economist for the American Institute of Architects, and “Market Dynamics,” by Peter Bekarian, Managing Director for Jones Lang LaSalle. After the presentations, the panel fielded questions from the audience for approximately 45 minutes. The discussion was moderated by Somerville Attorney Adam Dash, Esq.


According to the panelists, while the City of Somerville has some significant challenges to overcome, it does have the ingredients to become an innovation center. Those ingredients include available land in close proximity to Logan Airport, a desirable workforce, and great culture and entertainment options. Challenges facing the city include a lack of public transportation, competition from surrounding communities, antiquated infrastructure and a lack of permitted sites.


MassBio President Coughlin, stressed that growing biotech companies are in search of built and fully permitted sites if built product is not available. He went on to explain that if these companies are faced with lengthy zoning and permitting processes, they will look elsewhere. “Today I drive through Somerville on the way to other towns,” stated Coughlin. “That shouldn’t be the case.”


Peter Bekarian, Managing Director for Jones Lang LaSalle, one of the nation’s largest commercial real estate brokers underscored Coughlin’s point. He suggested that Somerville move forward with zoning and other entitlements and let professionals start marketing the city. “Once I see permitted sites, I can bring clients to Somerville. Without that, there is nothing to show.” He also noted that projects in other communities are lining up to capture the demand; there are approximately 5,575,083 SF of permitted projects in Cambridge, 6,651,700 SF of permitted projects in Boston and 1,295,595 SF of permitted projects in the inner suburbs.


“I hope the community better understands the urgency to move forward. The zoning currently before the Board of Alderman provides a unique opportunity for the City to lure life science tenants to major squares, including Union Square,” stated Mackey. “Today, companies are bypassing Somerville. We need to change that.”




The Somerville Chamber of Commerce is the pre-eminent voice of the local business community and the leading network of employers, business owners and managers. The Chamber’s mission is to serve the membership while enhancing Somerville’s quality of life. Somerville is a place to visit, live, work and play. The New Group helps support the Chamber. Since 1997, the New Group has worked with the local community and greater Boston’s business media, planners, investors and developers toward the advancement of a world-class Boston/Cambridge/Somerville urban nucleus. The Government Affairs Committee oversees the Chamber’s public affairs events and public policy positions and initiatives.  


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