DEVENS -- As the MassDevelopment board of directors met this month, Devens Advisory Committee member Tom Kinch said "I'd be interested in the board's attitude about the residential development of Devens. We've always considered it to be an enhancement to attracting industry."
MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones said the Devens Reuse Plan contemplates the residential development of Grant Road. Remediation on the land is complete.
Jones said MassDevelopment has retained urban designer Don Powers of Providence-based Union Studio to start work with the DEC about the appropriate number of building lots to place on Grant Road and determine the size of each lot.
"We intend to move forward," said Jones. Eventually a request for proposals for developers will result. There was no mention at the board meeting of the agency's unsuccessful effort on March 28 when it's chosen developer, Trinity Financial of Boston, was unable to secure tri-town approval for a 246-unit low-income housing conversion of the vacant Vicksburg Square on Devens.
"That's really next on our plan for housing development," said Jones.
Devens Advisory Committee member Philip Crosby thanked Devens Recreation Director Kim Walsh for working to ensure the "hundreds of thousands" who use the Rogers Field playing fields "don't just trample our property." Crosby said Walsh was "exceedingly active and willing to work with the residents.
In the morning, the MassDevelopment board of directors heard several reports and voted on several matters, including the state of manufacturing in Massachusetts.
Jones relayed a synopsis of the state of manufacturing in Massachusetts as reported by Barry Bluestone, dean of the Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University. The fact that manufacturing is the sixth largest employer in the state, providing 12 percent of the state's gross domestic product was "kind of a surprise to a lot of people," said Jones.
"These jobs are really good jobs, middle skills jobs," said Jones. "Over 60 percent are good jobs that do not require a college degree."
The report states the Massachusetts manufacturing sector has stabilized since 2009, with 40 new manufacturing plants going on-line in 2011. Emerging and leading fields include the manufacturing of medical, automation and robotic devices.
MassDevelopment Policy and Program Impact Officer RJ McGrail talked about what manufacturer's want. McGrail said manufacturers state a need for skilled workers. Also, financing is needed for both ventures that produce tangible products, but also intangible goods like intellectual property.
Access to capital isn't a problem for most, said McGrail. The top two sources of capital are the personal funds of the investor and commercial banks.
But recurring issues surface for manufacturers -- 92 percent cite the cost of providing health insurance to workers, 77 percent cite workers' compensation costs, 74 percent want lower energy costs, 74 percent want reduced unemployment compensation obligations, but 72 percent want a more business friendly state government.
"Those are similar and probably common sounding requests from any subset of the business community," said McGrail. A "holistic approach" is needed to begin to grapple with manufacturers' needs, he said.
Jones said a major issue is the "graying" of the workforce and the need for new workers trained in the evolving manufacturing sector to tackle the "major skills gap." The Patrick administration launched its AMP it Up (Advanced Manufacturing Program) on Sept. 13 (on Twitter @AmpItUp).
MassDevelopment spokesman Mark Sternman said this week the agency would begin posting applications for matching grants to aid schools recruiting students seeking manufacturing careers.