MassEcon executive director Susan Houston has played key roles in attracting a variety of companies, big and small, to Massachusetts over the years. Now, she is embarking on a different kind of recruitment effort: helping to find her replacement.
Houston has been the economic development agency’s only leader since its inception 25 years ago. Soon, it will be someone else’s turn, as Houston prepares to step down from the job at the end of 2018. The Watertown-based nonprofit organization has hired the executive search firm KLR to find Houston’s successor. She plans to stick around to help with the transition.
MassEcon works with state agencies to promote Massachusetts as a great place to do business, and highlights specific sites to companies looking to relocate here or expand. In particular, the organization promotes an online database of sites billed as the “Ready Mass 100” — properties that are essentially ready to go for a corporate tenant. The group works on a relatively tight budget of roughly $560,000 a year, with a full-time staff of three.
Houston says she’s leaving because this is a “good inflection point” for the group: “Handing an organization over to new leadership when it’s in good shape will allow my successor to take it even further.”
Originally, the group was funded by a coalition of utility companies and known as the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development. Membership was broadened significantly after the Legislature passed an electricity deregulation law in 1997. The group rebranded itself as MassEcon in 2008.
Along the way, MassEcon helped 200-plus companies with relocations and expansions, ranging from Bristol-Myers Squibb’s drug plant in Devens to Amazon’s warehouses in Stoughton and Fall River. As far as Amazon’s HQ2 hunt goes, MassEcon was involved in that, too, by working with a few real estate firms to present about a dozen possible Bay State locations to Governor Charlie Baker’s administration to pitch to the online retailer.
The broader perception of the state’s economic climate has changed dramatically from the early 1990s, when the late Bernie Reznicek, Boston Edison’s CEO at the time, suggested starting the organization to then-governor Bill Weld.
“We used to be Taxachusetts, and often at the bottom of the list,” Houston says. Now, Massachusetts is seen as “a sought-after location, particularly for certain industries.”
A transit advocate, a house fire, and a new job
Sometimes, they say, one thing leads to another. But not usually to this extreme.
One of the region’s most prominent transit advocates, Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation, is moving on. He’ll become executive director of Neighborhood Developers, an organization that focuses on building affordable housing in Chelsea, Everett, and Revere.
Before the CLF, Mares had a background in housing law. But he wasn’t seeking a job when he reached out to the community development corporation. He was seeking help after a personal tragedy: A fire had ravaged his family’s home in Revere in February.
Mares hoped the organization could recommend builders, architects, and others that could help him put the house back together. But, he said, the discussions shifted to work and later turned to the opening at the helm of the organization. He was encouraged to apply, and, well, one thing led to another.
“There might have been an easier way to get there,” he said. “But it’s nice that something positive came out of something that was a very negative experience for my family.”
Mares had been at the CLF since 2009, and led its efforts to keep the MBTA’s Green Line extension through Somerville on track, despite a major budgetary setback in 2015.
He counts limiting fare hikes on the T, expanding service on the commuter rail system’s Fairmount Line, and securing an agreement to limit emissions at Logan International Airport as other key issues he worked on.
He’ll start the new job in July.
Until then, Mares expects rebuilding the house to be his full-time gig.
Purchase puts marketing firm close to a castle
Not everyone can buy a company that puts them steps from Windsor Castle, the British landmark where the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took place.
But precisioneffect president Carolyn Morgan not only acquired a UK marketing business, Big Pink, near the castle, she closed on the deal just weeks before the wedding.
Of course, getting close to royalty was not a reason for the deal. Morgan says the move was designed to extend her Boston-based marketing firm’s reach in Europe. She says the deal brings about 25 people on board, increasing her team’s total size to nearly 200. (Big Pink founders Wayne Page and Simon Wilson are sticking around.) Her firm, which works with life sciences clients, was called LehmanMillet until 2016, when the name changed to reflect its acquisition by Precision Medicine Group the previous year.
The Big Pink deal closed in April. As part of the internal celebration, Morgan held a drawing to send two lucky staffers — one from the Boston office, one from the California office — to London. Morgan originally hoped the trip could take place around the royal wedding in May, but every place was booked. So the trip is happening now, instead.
“We originally thought about sending people over during the week of the wedding,” Morgan says. “We just couldn’t find any place for them to stay, and the cost of airfare [was] just insane.”
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