Massachusetts’ North Shore conjures images of quaint lighthouses, rugged fishermen, rocky beaches, and long days spent by the seaside. The region, home to some of Massachusetts colony’s first settlements nearly four hundred years ago, has a storied past. Whaling, fishing, shipbuilding, silversmithing, and manufacturing are part of its legacy. The United States Coast Guard started here. Literature and film prominently feature its historical landscape. The arts industry continues to thrive.
All of this, of course, paints an exemplary picture – one that attracts masses of tourists from across the world each year in hopes of experiencing these quiet, seemingly frozen-in-time, seaside towns for themselves.
The North Shore, however, increasingly attracts more than mere vacationers. Tech companies are paying attention too. The region offers picture-perfect landscape, proximity to Boston, and a large talent pool; for the region and the industry, it’s a (welcomed) perfect storm.
Today, beyond their leadership in tourism and marine industries, the coastal towns of the North Shore are increasingly recognized globally as emerging hubs for life sciences, biotechnology, genetics, and technology support services.
Towns like Gloucester, Newburyport, and Ipswich are looking to the future, actively appealing to tech companies and tech employees with promises of great facilities and less commuting, all while preserving the region’s special character and charm.
A sense of history
Before settlers formed Boston and what would later become Massachusetts, they established the town of Gloucester in 1623, making it one of the oldest communities in the United States. Nearby Ipswich (1634) and Newburyport (1635) formed shortly after. Collectively, they specialized in maritime industries, shipbuilding, and manufacturing. All contributed significantly to the Revolutionary War, and later, WWI and WWII. When manufacturing opportunities, abundant during the wars, began to disappear in the 1960s and ’70s, the region famously resisted the urge to tear down its historic architecture for shopping centers, and as a result, both the native fishing industry and tourism thrive in the present day.
This is the history most know, but as David Bertoni, President of the North Shore Technology Council, notes, there is more to the story.
“Back in the ’70s, when the 128 tech highway was really the birthplace of storage and microcomputers and all that good stuff, this area, in response, developed a specific infrastructure of support services, IT attorneys, marketing people, engineering, and all the support services that companies developing new technologies need to roll them out,” says Bertoni.
As researchers in the city built companies and sought to bring their findings to market, they needed more space at an affordable price, and the North Shore was ready to receive them. The tech industry slowly and quietly evolved.
Alongside the area’s more traditional industries, organizations like the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute and New England Biolabs flourish. It’s a unique cluster of economic activity, one that simultaneously exists with and embraces the past.
“[Our founder] is a huge history buff, and the area and our buildings are steeped in history,” says Kathleen McEvoy, Vice President of Communications at EBSCO Information Services, a global provider of research databases, e-journals, magazine subscriptions, e-books and discovery service to libraries of all kinds. EBSCO Information Services, a division of one of the two hundred largest privately held companies in the US, is headquartered in Ipswich’s old mill buildings, which date back to the mid 1800s. Notes McEvoy, “Now there are data centers in these buildings.”
EBSCO itself traces its roots in town back to the 1980s. When the company outgrew its space in Topsfield, they knew that since most employees lived in the North Shore region, it made sense to stay local.
“We looked in Ipswich, and there were really great old mill buildings right along the Ipswich River, which offered a lot of space for the company to move in and space to grow. It kept the company local,” notes Liz Milligan, Communications and Engagement Business Partner at EBSCO. “The character of the building is appealing, and the location has been able to grow and evolve with us. We’re super close to downtown Ipswich, coffee, an easy ride into Boston, we have a [commuter rail] stop, right on campus, and it’s a quick five-mile drive to the beach.”
Many of EBSCO’s 3500 employees continue to live in the local area. On campus, in a quiet spot along the river between campus and town, there is a life-size mural depicting Ipswich’s past, featuring the likeness of EBSCO’s senior leadership; it’s a physical representation of the continued connection between past and present, between the company and the community its people are proud to call home.
A sense of balance
People, not surprisingly, want to live on the North Shore – a fact of which tech companies of all sizes are increasingly aware. Startups and scaling companies alike recognize the unique, attractive balance of access to resources, proximity to like-minded people, and quality of life. Real estate and cost of living tends to be more affordable, compared to the city.
“I moved to Gloucester from Somerville in 2002 because of the ocean/beaches, and the blue collar nature of the city conjured up connections to my childhood,” explains Neil Costa, Founder and CEO of HireClix, a recruitment marketing services agency located in Gloucester.
Costa started HireClix with a folding table at an incubator space in downtown Gloucester for $100 a month in 2010. “Having been in the digital marketing/e-commerce world,” he says, “I had always worked in Cambridge or on the 128 belt, so I had spent many long mornings and evenings in traffic.”
By starting HireClix in Gloucester, Costa sought to maximize time for work and his children. “Being local was critical. I could get a ton of work done but make a second grade concert during lunch.”
In addition, notes Costa, the company’s coastal location is great for business. “When clients, vendors, and our remote employees come visit us in Gloucester, they stay at the Beauport Hotel, which has been a huge asset for us to leverage. It’s been amazing to have a world-class hotel available to our visitors. It just makes a visit to HireClix that much more memorable. Gloucester has really become interwoven with our brand. It’s unique to our business and part of our story.”
Christopher Bouton, CEO of Vyasa Analytics in nearby Newburyport, echoes the theme. “My wife and I moved to the area in 2001. We see it as an amazing combination of access to a wonderful city, but also as a wonderful area in which to raise a family.” As a boater, notes Bouton, the proximity to the ocean and prevalence of Newburyport’s maritime roots attracted him too.
This sense of being able to lead a quality, balanced life, complete with closeness to family and the ocean, has proven a major asset for towns in the region. As an increasing number of skilled workers choose to move to the North Shore with their families, cutting-edge tech companies are more than willing to follow.
“Besides being super close to the beach, there is a solid and growing technical labor pool in southern NH and Northern MA,” says Milligan of EBSCO. “There are all of these folks, who maybe for years have driven into Boston and had to deal with their commute around 128, and there are high-tech companies using the latest and greatest technologies right here.”
“We’re doing this all over the world—we really are such a global company,” continues McEvoy. It’s unique that we’re located in a place where you can work and still run out and see your child’s soccer game and have this real life balance, but you can still do this real cutting-edge work that impacts the world.”
And for those who simply need to take a meeting in the city, Boston is always less than 40 miles away, easily accessible via the commuter rail.
“Being located near to, but outside of, Boston means that we can get into the city for meetings as needed, but can also work in a town with a simpler rhythm of life and less traffic,” says Bouton.
“It’s the best of both worlds.”
Looking to the future
“There’s a perception that there are a lack of good tech companies right outside of Boston,” cautions Milligan. But this is simply not true.
Bertoni notes that the North Shore Technology Council currently has approximately 350-400 small and medium-sized technology and technology-support companies in its membership network, along with about 25 sponsor companies.
“We’re rolling out a CEO roundtable for technology CEOs, which we feel is important and under-served, and it’s new for us,” says Bertoni. “We’re getting help from the state and from the MassTech Collaborative. The [scaling] companies, that’s where we really see our role—job growth of companies of that type are really the job drivers, and I think that’s our role in the future.”
There are increased initiatives to connect and listen to tech companies and tech employees living and working in the region. The North Shore is committed to tech, and as a result, tech is committed to the north shore.
Since opening nearly a decade ago, HireClix has grown to about 35 employees and now works directly with Gloucester’s mayor and her team to ensure the city is aware of the unique business needs of companies like it in the area, compared to the needs of the traditional fishing industries. “Recently, we have started to see more employees buy houses in Gloucester,” says Costa. “That has to be a really good sign for the future.”
EBSCO is also looking to the future and the company’s role in it, says Milligan. Beyond giving back to and volunteering with 30+ local organizations, EBSCO advocates for environmental preservation in the region, leading by example on campus. The EBSCO employee cafe is certified by the Green Restaurant Association; employees have free access to charging points for electric cars. “Giving back is a part of who we are,” she emphasizes.
Adds McEvoy, “We’ve done a lot of work with the North Shore Chamber of Commerce and other business groups in Massachusetts. A few years ago, we worked with [Congressman] Seth Moulton and MassTLC — hosting an event here for local tech business leaders to draw attention to legislation around internships — building a pathway for the next generation of the tech employees, and how to make sure that companies always have what they need.”
As Vyasa’s Bouton points out, the nature of work itself is changing, not just in the North Shore region, but everywhere. This, he believes, will only strengthen the area over time. “Growing startup companies near major urban centers but not in them becomes a wonderful strategy,” says Bouton. “Startups like Vyasa will continue to locate themselves in areas like the North Shore, and areas outside of major urban centers will continue to benefit from this compelling balance of proximity as needed and lifestyle for work/family balance.”
Thanks to proactive local government, engaged businesses and community members, and organizations like the North Shore Technology Council, the tech economy is quietly flourishing along the coast. And while many will continue to picture lighthouses, fishermen, and the seaside when thinking of the area, for the North Shore’s tech workers, that is ok.
The North Shore Technology Council (NSTC) is a great resource for any businesses interested in learning more about opportunities on the North Shore. For more information, visit the NSTC website.