CEO, FinCom member runs to replace Hargraves

By Mary E. Arata

AYER — “We have the rails, we are so close to all the schools, we can be an innovation center. I think I can help,” said Jesse Reich, 30 of Ayer. Reich, a member of the Ayer Finance Committee, pulled papers to run for representative for the First Middlesex District last Friday, Feb. 19.

The youngest professor by a decade at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Boston where he teaches freshmen chemistry, Reich is a co-founder and CEO of Baystate Biofuels in North Andover.

Reich said he’d put a lot of personal research time into locating his 350,000 gallon renewable biodiesel company on Devens. However, the company settled on the North Shore, needing major highway access for distribution of its eco-friendly product. As clean fuel state mandates phase in, Reich says he’s working with Citgo, Global, Gulf and Irving Oil to provide product to help diesel fueled fleets achieve compliance.

Still, he says Devens is poised perfectly to potentially become a clean energy epicenter and economic engine for Central Massachusetts. He said the “highest and best use” for Devens lands is to site innovation and technology ventures, as the former Army base continues to morph into increasingly industrial uses.

“I honestly don’t believe there’s anywhere better to put green jobs,” said Reich, who called Devens “a phenomenal opportunity.”

“Devens, rail, Route 495, Route 2, space, cheap land … All the infrastructure any company could possibly want,” said Reich, “What we need is an advocate for the area for jobs.”

“I’m not sure it’s going to be biodiesel business. … But we can use the facilities there to support innovative job grown and try to apply financial resources in the state and bring them to Devens to build all the innovative jobs that we can,” Reich said, “It’s hard to find industrially zoned land in New England that has access to schools, infrastructure, rail and the things you need to grow industrial businesses.”

Of last summer’s failed effort to residentially rezone the vacant 430,000 square foot Vicksburg Square Devens complex atop the historic Ayer/Harvard town line, Reich said he opposed the concept then and he opposes the revived effort now. “Why would we convert the only land that is suitable for industrial use and use it for condos?” he said.

Reich earned his doctorate in chemistry from Texas A&M in 2005, after attaining his undergraduate degree from Bates College in Maine where he met wife Alene. The couple is expecting their first child in early March.

Reich said of his domestic juggling act, “I have a record that shows I can get a lot of things done at the same time.”

“Maybe it’s baby emotion talk,” said Jesse Reich, “but it’s never been more important to do the best for the world you’re bringing a child into.” Among his concerns are sustainability issues, a theme that he frequently advocates for at FinCom meetings. He’s also leading an Ayer effort to assemble a gathering of neighboring towns’ finance committees to talk about sharing services or pooling supplies.

He’s not cowed by people who feel the term “regionalization” is a bad word. “You can pick whatever buzz word you want. We have to stop acting like 220 small towns and give up overlap,” said Reich, stating an insistence on municipal sovereignty at all expense is “obviously not sustainable, not from an economic perspective.”

Reich said he’s learned much from his last year aboard the FinCom and Ayer Tri-Board. “It’s a great success,” he said. “I’m biased as vice chairman to think that it’s a great opportunity for the town combining its leadership and the people responsible for the finances of the town.”

“The interplay is great. The schools can tell the selectmen what they need, the FinCom can say how we’re budgeted and how we’ll respond and the selectmen can plan for it,” said Reich, “It’s really a nice relationship.”

Explaining why he hopes to move up to state level representation, Reich said “I want to help our towns pool resources and mitigate expenses,” Reich said. He said the FinCom experience gave him “a better understanding of the fiscal process which goes to the abilities of cities and towns to provide services, how its structured – at least how we in Ayer think of it and plan for the services we want to provide.”

Of other planks in his platform, Reich, a Democrat, said job creation locally is job Number One.

“I like universal health care, small class sizes, but right now we have to focus on raising revenues to make sure we can pay for those things. I want to focus on job growth and curtailing expenses.”