The Longwood Medical Area has come a long way from the days when Boston Children’s Hospital set up shop on Huntington Avenue with 60 beds and a herd of cows to provide kids with tuberculosis-free milk.
That was back in 1882. Today, these 213 acres where Brookline, Mission Hill, and the Fenway converge are home to 22 institutions that collectively employ 68,000 workers. That number, which includes contract workers such as researchers, grew by about 15,000 from 2008 through 2019, according to a report by the UMass Donahue Institute. That’s a growth rate of nearly 30 percent, or roughly twice the pace of the state’s overall employment growth.
One of every 11 jobs added in Boston in the past decade can be traced to Longwood, the report said. It’s the densest cluster of research activity in the country — a magnet for National Institutes of Health funding totaling more than $1 billion a year, more than that of 40 entire states.
UMass Donahue researchers completed the study on behalf of the Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization Inc., known as MASCO, a nonprofit that represents the various Longwood institutions. The report was presented to the MASCO board’s executive committee last week.
Longwood is often overshadowed by Kendall Square in Cambridge, and all the tech and biotech companies that have made Kendall Square their home, or by the massive surge of office and lab construction underway in Boston’s Seaport. But more people work in Longwood than in either of those places — thanks in part to mega-employers such as Children’s, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
“I don’t think the Longwood area gets its due for the role it plays in the identity of Massachusetts and Boston, or for the economic impact it has,” said Dave Sweeney, MASCO’s president. “Because it’s been around for a century, and it’s so stable the impact gets a little taken for granted.”
The report doesn’t directly reflect how much life-sciences development is being proposed near Longwood because of the proximity to the area’s research hospitals and schools. Last week, the laboratory landlord Alexandria Real Estate Equities reported that it has commitments to fill 84 percent of the Landmark Center on nearby Brookline Avenue, up from 17 percent when it invested in the property in January. Also last week, the California lab developer IQHQ filed a project notification with the city to build a 10-story life-sciences building on Brookline Avenue near the massive Fenway Center project, which the company is developing with Meredith Management over the Massachusetts Turnpike.
The study is the first comprehensive one of Longwood, at least in recent memory, Sweeney said. He added that showing Longwood’s economic heft is important when making the case for improvements that would benefit the area, most notably for transit that could serve the numerous hospitals, colleges, and other employers. The report said getting in and out of Longwood, a place notorious for traffic jams and backups, is one of its biggest challenges. Roughly half of the area’s workers take public transit to get there.
Improving transit options, such as the Green Line trolleys that run along the edges of Longwood, could be crucial despite the trends showing more employers embracing remote work. For hospitals and colleges, most jobs need to be done onsite. A spokeswoman for MASCO, which runs a fleet of 37 shuttle buses in the area, said it’s planning for only about 10 percent of Longwood’s employees to continue working remotely after the pandemic ends.
“There’s this assumption that half the people will work from home,” Sweeney said. “That may well be true in the suburban office park. [But] there’s a lot of work here where face-to-face contact is essential.”
Longwood, with its “eds and meds” economy, is a microcosm of the state’s economic strengths, Sweeney said. He said the report wasn’t commissioned with a particular outcome in mind, other than educating people about the area’s outsized impact on the city, region, and state.
Arguably, Harvard became Longwood’s most important anchor, by building its medical school in Longwood around 1900. The medical school acted as a magnet for the hospitals. Boston Children’s Hospital, for example, relocated from its spot on Huntington Avenue in 1914 to be next door. Now, Children’s employs 12,000-plus people, with a campus that spans four city blocks.
Dick Argys, chief administrative officer at Children’s, said the MASCO report validates what many of hospital and college executives already understood about Longwood’s economic effects.
“We’ve done the math in our heads and tried to make some assumptions,” Argys said. “It was great to see it affirmed . . . There’s just so much knowledge and brainpower right here that it’s world-changing.”