Business & Tech

Talking Points: Signs of a struggle in Boston, farmers learn from Toyota, and more

The Citgo sign in Kenmore Square.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/file
The Citgo sign in Kenmore Square.

St. Patrick’s Day... on a Friday... in Boston? OK, we know we’ve got some stiff competition for your attention today so we’ll get right to the latest from Jon Chesto and today’s top business news for Friday, March 17. No blarney.

Chesto means business

Sign of character: Mayor Marty Walsh helped save Kenmore Square’s Citgo sign by refereeing lease negotiations in City Hall. To many residents, the glowing red triangle is an important fixture, a constant presence amid dramatic changes in Kenmore and across the city. And for  marathoners like me, the Citgo sign is a beacon of hope, reassuring us that the end is within reach.
Let me tell you a different story, one that didn’t make the news. A six-year-old girl from Maine was visiting Boston with her parents when her mom, Sarah Griffiths, looked out a hotel window and saw a glowing sign on the Vertex headquarters. Griffiths’ daughter Mamie, who takes  a Vertex drug for her cystic fibrosis, perked up. So Griffiths inquired about a last-minute tour. The company obliged, giving the girl a trip to remember. (Vertex says its signs have inspired a number of patients to stop by the HQ.)

Not everyone is a fan of these signs, and some purists would prefer not to see any in the skyline. This is a tricky balancing act: deciding which elevated signs to allow and which ones to deny. It’s not surprising that the issue has  vexed the Walsh administration, an issue I wrote about in today's paper.  

No one wants to turn Boston into Las Vegas. But some elevated signs can contribute to a city’s character by providing reminders of what makes a place unique. 

Jon Chesto is a Globe reporter. Reach him and follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

Executive summary

What can farmers learn from an automaker? Apparently, quite a bit.

Organic farmers in Western Mass. are under pressure from large corporate growers that have gotten into that market. To compete, farmers like Ryan Voiland in Montague are looking at the principles used in Toyota factories.

The process has been dubbed “lean farming.” Techniques are used to increase production while decreasing waste, effort, and overproduction that leads to inefficiencies. Scott Morrison, who trains farmers in the principles, compares it to being “like a NASCAR pit crew.”

Developer charged with extortion: Gary P. DeCicco, a developer and convicted felon, was ordered held without bail until a detention hear next Wednesday. He is being charged with extortion that involved an effort to seize control of a Route 1 car dealership.

DeCicco, who at one time owned the land where the Wynn casino is being built in Everett, allegedly hired a hit man to beat the extortion victim and send flowers in the shape of a cross with an anti-Muslim note attached, according to court records.

The alleged attack took place on Jan 11, 2015. The victim is cooperating with federal authorities. DeCicco was not arraigned and no plea was entered on his behalf.

Bigger is better: If you think it’s easier to get someone to buy technology priced at $500 rather than $500,000, guess again.

That’s because for many Boston-based tech companies, it’s easier to sell something that solves a problem for corporate customers. Consumer innovation is often more costly and relies on sales at Christmas to make or break the product.

Boston’s best-funded startups are the companies working on corporate solutions like Desktop Metal of Burlington, which is working on a 3-D printer to “crank out metal parts.” The company has raised $97 million since being founded two years ago.

Boost for biotech: Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge-based company, is delighting in some clinical test results for a cholesterol drug.

From Boston Business Journal: Alnylam announced Friday that clinical tests showed patients taking the drug experienced significant, long-lasting reductions in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

The positive results for this drug come after Alnylam had a significant setback in October. The biotech had to shut down a clinical trial of an experimental drug that aimed to treat a life-threatening heart and nerve disease after 19 patients died. The Globe reported at the time that investigators had not linked the deaths to taking the drug.

Trending pick

Penney for your thoughts: For some reason, people love reading about store closings, and today's news from J.C. Penney was no exception. The retailer released a  complete list of the 138 stores it plans to close, including one in Massachusetts, at the Berkshire Mall.

Line items


What it takes to make history:
Preservation isn't always a slam dunk for landmarks -- Boston Globe

Pay cut for Goldman Sachs CEO:
Long-term incentive dump results in 27 percent drop -- Bloomberg

Snap, crackle, flop?
Social media stock continues its tumble -- Business Insider 

Piling on student debt:
Struggling borrowers can be charged late fees -- BuzzFeed Business


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Ex's and oh's: So you got divorced, didn't know your husband had that $4.5 million tucked away in a Swiss trust, and then he donated it to Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

As reported in this morning's Globe, that's the scenario playing out in a lawsuit filed by Janet Foisie.

Foisie alleges her ex-husband hid the funds from her during their divorce proceedings and as a result she settled for less than she was entitled to from the marital assets.

That trust was part of the latest $40 million donation given to WPI by her ex-husband, Bob Foisie. Foisie has made multiple donations to the school, his alma mater, through the years totaling $63 million. There are multiple buildings and programs named after him at WPI. 

Construction of the Foisie Innovation Studio continues on the Worcester campus, even as the case continues in court.

This Talking Points newsletter is compiled by George Brennan. Follow George on Twitter at @gpb227If you liked what you've read, please tell your friends to  sign up.