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Getting guidance on industrial park

Southbridge officials take trip to New Bedford

Southbridge town officials Catherine Nikolla, Wilfrid Cournoyer and Mark Morin listen to Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation Executive Director Thomas Davis talk about the turn-around his city’s industrial park has seen in the last decade. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
November 15, 2009
In their effort to make good on plans to create an industrial park, several Southbridge officials took a field trip to New Bedford Friday to see how that city organized its business park.

"As I look around here, I see Southbridge everywhere," said Assessor Wilfrid Cournoyer afterward, pointing out buildings nearly identical to the Golden Greek and Sacred Heart convent.

Earlier, talking to Thomas Davis, the executive director of the Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation, Cournoyer observed, "Other than the size, you could be our big brother. We have everything you say … "

" … Except Spanish instead of Portuguese," Town Manager Christopher Clark finished.

In New Bedford, the quest for a business park began a long time ago — "in 1960, when the unemployment rate in New Bedford was 20 percent," Davis said. Then, several non-governmental community groups, including the Rotarians and Kiwanis Club, formed the nonprofit foundation to buy land owned by the Acushnet Sawmill Co. for development. He said they started with a 50-acre chunk, which they parceled and sold to interested businesses as they cleared the trees, then went back for more. Nineteen transactions later, the park had accumulated almost 1,000 acres, but only about 65 percent is actually developable because of wetlands.

Davis said things went well until the 1970s, when management changed gears and "didn't want to spend money." Between then and his hiring date in 1998, "the park slowly deteriorated," leaving lots of vacant buildings and the two largest tenants on the verge of leaving.

For more on this story, please see Monday's Southbridge Evening News.

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