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Former Army post Devens is fertile ground for jobs

Companies have hired more than 400 employees since ’10

Employment at Devens has grown at double-digit rates over the past three years as much of the property available for development at the former Army post has been sold or leased, according to a report released Friday by the University of Massachusetts.

Since 2010, companies at Devens have added more than 400 jobs — the vast majority in high-paying manufacturing industries — a 13 percent increase that has brought total employment to more than 3,600. The growth, the report noted, has come as state and national economies have grown slowly and unemployment has remained high.

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“I was surprised by the rate of employment growth,” said Lindsay Koshgarian, a research manager at the UMass Donahue Institute and author of the report. “There’s not a lot of good jobs news out there right now.”

The former post, decommissioned about 20 years ago, has been an economic experiment testing government’s ability to turn a sprawling former military base into an economic engine that can attract companies and jobs to the state.

About half of the 10,000-acre area 40 miles northeast of Boston is still used by the Army reserves, about 2,200 acres is open space, and much of the remaining 2,200 acres have been sold or leased to businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies by MassDevelopment, the quasi-public agency managing the redevelopment effort.

Marty Jones, chief executive of MassDevelopment since 2011, said about half of the property available for development has been sold or leased.

“We still have a long way to go,” said Jones, who visited Devens Friday to dedicate a community center. “We’re pleased with what’s happening here.”

Of the 87 businesses and nonprofits at Devens, 72 percent are privately owned and 28 percent are nonprofits or part of a government agency.

The report did not identify how many workers are employed at each Devens company, but said the five biggest employers at Devens are the Federal Medical Center, a detention facility (where Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held); pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.; aircraft component manufacturer Parker Hannifin Corp.; Quiet Logistics, which fills online orders; and Johnson Matthey Pharma Services, which works with drug developers.

Manufacturing not only employs the most people at Devens, but was also the fastest growing sector in recent years, according to the study. Operating there are 14 manufacturing companies, not including the French company Saint-Gobain, which recently announced plans to manufacture LED lighting in part of the former plant of the bankrupt solar panel maker Evergreen Solar Inc.

Manufacturing, which employs about 1,200 at Devens, spurred much of the employment growth in recent years, adding about 300 jobs, or more than 70 percent of new jobs since 2010.

Government, which includes many employees at the federal medical detention center, was the next biggest employer at Devens with 605 jobs, followed by the wholesale trade businesses, which employed 412 people.

Workers at Devens earned an average of $69,210 a year, compared with the state average of $57,304 annually, according to the study. Private employers paid average wages of $71,000 annually.

One of the highest paying sectors was the professional, scientific, and technical services sector at Devens, which employed 320 people. Average pay: $99,000 a year.

The report also estimated that private companies at Devens should pay about $2.95 million in corporate taxes in 2013, though the actual figure may be lower because some employers benefit from tax deals offered by the state. Saint-Gobain, for example, has requested tax breaks for locating in Devens, although nothing has been finalized.

In 2006, Bristol-Myers Squibb built its $750 million plant in Devens after the administration of former governor Mitt Romney helped the company win about $100 million in tax breaks and other incentives over a 20-year period.

Megan Woolhouse
can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.
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