By Jon Bishop
DEVENS — Simon Gerlin, a self-described finance guy by trade, said he knew he needed to do something different. So, at age 50, he joined Clean Harbors, an environmental organization.
“I had a great run. Great company,” he said. While there, he learned about running a business. “It was a great experience.”
Still there was an itch he had to scratch. He had to do something different yet again.
He saw that MassDevelopment had an opening as chief financial officer. He joined the organization in February 2013.
“I was very attracted to the mission,” he said.
He now works closely with Devens, which he called “a huge success story.”
After the base closure, “there was nothing,” but now “there’s the beginnings of what would be a terrific community,” he said.
“I think we’re well down the road to creating…a self-sustaining town,” he said. “We really function very much like a town, in many ways.”
As for what Devens will be when Chapter 498, its governing statute, expires in 2033, he wouldn’t say. That year is “a long way away,” he said.
“Our focus is on growth and making this an attractive place,” he said. “We’re making great progress,” adding that “we’re not self-sustaining yet, but we’re getting closer every year.”
MassDevelopment is still in the process of searching for a new executive vice president of Devens operations, the most recent of which was George Ramirez.
Of Ramirez, Gerlin said, “George did a wonderful job. What I think he did particularly well was building the various departments.”
“George really got some good processes in place,” he said. “Certainly, that will be an important part of the new person’s role.”
Something else Ramirez’s successor would do is focus on further regionalization of services. Gerlin said that the newly installed regional dispatch center on Barnum Road cut costs for Devens.
“We’d like to try to do more of that,” he said.
Also, they’re working on “things like a reverse commute,” he said, referring to the project that would bring an earlier train to Littleton, where people could then pick up shuttles. This would allow people to commute to and from Devens.
Mark Sternman, a MassDevelopment spokesman, said via e-mail that MassDevelopment, along with other entities, had successfully advocated that the MBTA add a train early enough to enable reserve commuting. The next step is to see if there’s sufficient interest for a shuttle service.
“Those are the kinds of initiatives we expect our new person to focus on,” Gerlin said.
Gerlin said that a big part of the job is outreach, both to residents and businesses.
“We’ve got some really wonderful companies that have settled here,” he said.
Gerlin couldn’t say if there are any new companies planning on opening up in Devens, but he did note that they have “lots of things in the pipeline.”
“We’re open for business,” he said.
And, now that Governor Charlie Baker has taken office, Gerlin said they’re excited to hear what’s going to come from Beacon Hill. Jay Ash, former city manager of Chelsea and current secretary of housing and economic development, is now chair of the MassDevelopment Board of Directors.
They’re eager to hear what Ash has to say, because he can run a municipality well, Gerlin said.
Overall, Gerlin said that he loves what MassDevelopment does.
“It’s very exciting to see (MassDevelopment projects),” he said. “Out here in Devens, it’s a similar feel. It’s really neat to see the growth of something out of nothing.”
Shutting down Fort Devens could have been catastrophic for the region, because a base is an economic driver, he said. But it’s nearly back to full economic strength.
Something Gerlin could discuss, however, was the Grant Road Housing Project, which will add up to 124 housing units to Devens. He said that it will significantly increase the Devens housing stock.
“We’re excited about that,” he said. “We think it fits in very well with what Devens is all about.”
“There’s a lot of activity like that,” he said.