Ever since joining the Baker administration as economic secretary last year, Jay Ash has been hunting for ways to boost other parts of the state beyond the booming Boston area.
Toward that end, Ash and his staff developed the most lucrative package of state tax credits yet under Governor Charlie Baker for Kronos Inc. The Chelmsford-based human resources software and services firm plans to relocate to Lowell and add at least 400 jobs over the next five years.
To reward Kronos for the new jobs, the state Economic Assistance Coordinating Council this week approved $8 million in tax credits for the company over a three-year period, one of the largest awards in the program’s history. The state package comes on top of the city of Lowell’s property tax breaks for the Kronos project worth $2.2 million.
Finding ways to stoke economic activity in mid-sized cities such as Lowell, Fall River, Springfield, and Lynn has been a big priority for Baker and for Ash, a former Chelsea city manager.
“We are thinking about our Gateway Cities,” Ash said. “We’re letting those communities know that we will be every bit as aggressive in trying to help them meet their economic development goals as we are in Boston and Cambridge.”
Kronos has signed a lease for 435,000 square feet at the Cross Point complex on Lowell’s southern outskirts, a three-tower campus that once housed Wang Laboratories’ world headquarters. Wang’s long gone, a superpower done in by shifting trends in the computer industry in the 1990s, but the 1.2 million-square-foot campus remains a prominent part of Lowell’s economy.
Kronos isn’t as big as Wang was in its heyday, but the company is still one of the Merrimack Valley’s largest employers, with roughly 1,300 at its Chelmsford headquarters and more than $1 billion in revenue last year. Kronos will move those workers to Cross Point after renovations are complete, a project that should be done in mid-2017. Kronos will occupy all 13 floors in one of the towers and at least two floors in a second tower.
Ash said Massachusetts was in competition with Indiana for the new headquarters. Ensuring Kronos could stay here was important to the Baker administration. Ash compared it with the recent deal to persuade General Electric to relocate its headquarters to Boston from Fairfield, Conn.
“This is the GE of Merrimack Valley,” Ash said. “Kronos is that important to the Merrimack Valley.”
Ash traveled to the Lowell property last week to join politicians from that area and Kronos chief executive Aron Ain to celebrate the start of the $56 million renovation project to accommodate Kronos’ move.
Chris Todd, Kronos’ senior vice president of operations, said in an e-mail that the current Chelmsford campus is spread across three buildings on both sides of Route 129, and it was important to get all the headquarters employees under one roof for a change. Cross Point’s amenities — on-site day care, a gym, conference center, and restaurants such as Tavern in the Square, as well as room for a Kronos basketball court — made the location particularly attractive.
“A high-tech, collaborative, and high-energy space [will] help us continue to attract and retain great people,” Todd said.
The Kronos award represents the third-largest tax-credit package ever approved by the Economic Assistance Coordinating Council, according to a spokesman. The largest one was $22.5 million for Liberty Mutual’s Boston expansion, approved in March 2010.
State officials have also pledged significant money for General Electric’s relocation, perhaps as much as $120 million. But that would consist of grant funds from a state program to assist in infrastructure development, not tax credits.