By WGBH News | Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Nov. 9, 2011
BOSTON — Greater Boston received exclusive access to research conducted by independent think tank MassINC about whether or not Massachusetts residents believe the American Dream is still attainable.
MassINC's report indicated that as many as one in three Mass. residents feel they are in danger of falling out of the middle class. The data shows that while the American dream is still attainable by some, others are finding it increasingly difficult to do the things that have historically symbolized success in the US, including owning a home, paying for college and saving enough money for retirement.
The news isn't all bad though. Mass. does fare better than most states in some areas. More residents are covered by health insurance, more students are going to college and more are graduating with a four-year degree.
Greater Boston ventured out to hear from Mass. residents about one benchmark of the American Dream: whether they feel they are better off today than their parents were. Then, MassINC researchers explained how they came to their conclusions and dug deeper into the findings.
By Mickey Coburn | Monday, April 4, 2011
Apr. 4, 2011
For our Where We Live series, WGBH reporters and producers traveled to nine cities and towns looking for stories of economic struggle, renewal and transition throughout Massachusetts. But we know we can't tell the whole story, and that's where you come in. We're asking members of the WGBH community to send us stories, photos or video about the economic changes you see in your town. You can submit your own stories here, and see what else we've collected here.
"When we moved to Beverly from PA in 1969, we had a city newspaper, Beverly Times; a Marshalls, a Zayres, shoestore in the center of town. The school systems was not terrific but adequate. Very little diversity.
"I was able to open an acting school & little theatre and it thrived. Was gone from the city for a number of years, returning in 2006. Same mayor for eight terms; a plethora of second-hand stores. The terrific medium-size family grocery in downtown is locked up; Montserrat School of Art gives the city a good pulse; some good restaurants.
"The school system doesn't seem to progress too much. Two neighborhood schools were closed, plus the new middle school (the one left is overcrowded) and the high school has been expensively rebuilt.
"Beverly still has minimal diversity. A new group, Main Streets, is trying to make a difference.
"On the weekends, the streets are painfully empty except thankfully for two thriving coffee houses. I take my grandkids over to Salem or up to Newburyport to walk about. We have a great coast, some of which is made private to the wealthy folks who live there. We have many disenfranchised folks — I feel too many, given the size of the town. Because of our major train connection to Boston, many folks (are) attracted to live here, I think.
"People don't seem to come to visit — tourists. They pass through on their way to other North Shore towns. The city has history. Something sorely missing. Not sure what that is."
By Andrea Smardon | Friday, April 1, 2011
FORT DEVENS, Mass. — The former army base Devens has been thrust into the spotlight as the place where alternative energy company Evergreen Solar built a manufacturing plant, then abruptly closed it, moving its operations to China. But Evergreen is only part of a larger story of rapid economic change in Devens.
Fifteen years ago, the army pulled out of Fort Devens, taking away 7,000 jobs, and leaving abandoned buildings and polluted land. The land was sold to a quasi-public agency now known as MassDevelopment. The idea was that the former base would be cleaned up and transformed into an economic hub.
WGBH News: Where We Live
Meg Delorier, chief of staff at MassDevelopment, says, “I would never have imagined that 15 years later Devens would look likes it looks today.”
Delorier once lived at Fort Devens when her former husband was stationed there. “There were a lot of people who thought that we would be lucky to have warehousing and distribution facilities and that would be it; those would be the companies that would be attracted to Devens because there were large, flat parcels of land,” Delorier said.
But that’s not all that’s come to Devens. The base does have some warehousing and packaging companies. But it also has small businesses, and it’s been able to attract some prize life sciences and new energy technology companies like Evergreen Solar, American Superconductor, and Bristol Myers Squibb.
DeLorier says one of the most important advantages that Devens has is fast-track permitting. There is a single body known as the Devens Enterprise Commission which reviews all applications within 75 days of submission.
“It’s an expedited permitting process which is time and usually money for a company. That’s been one of the biggest attractions in Devens so far especially for the major employers,“DeLorier said.
But some nearby residents think there should be more time taken with these large projects. Frank Maxant is a selectman for the town of Ayer. He says pharmaceutical company Bristoll Myers Squibb was permitted too quickly – a record 49 days.
Maxant says he was concerned about “millions of gallons of biochemically active soup,” which he said would have been located right near the town’s only high-yield aquifer. “They boasted about their permitting process when they were through. Did they boast about prudent they were, how careful they were to protect everybody’s interest, protect the environment? They boasted about setting a speed record,” Maxant said.
Staff from the Devens Enterprise Commision said they hired an environmental planner to review the application. They defended the process and said it is possible to do a high quality plan review within that timeframe.
While economic development has moved quickly at Devens, the quest by residents to become an official town – remember, they’re still an army base -- is deadlocked.
The original reuse plan requires approval from the surrounding towns, and the residents in those towns don’t all agree. Frustrated with the stalemate, some Devens residents have petitioned the state legislature to bypass the towns and approve Devens as a municipality.
Rick Bernklow is one of those residents. He’s also a professional real estate appraiser. He says he wants Devens to become a town so they can govern themselves, but he would also like to keep the special permitting process.
“There’s nothing else in the commonwealth matches that,“ Bernklow sad. “It is a primary generator for economic growth here. I see people everywhere trying to get things permitted take a year, 2 years, 3 years. I think the state has put expedited permitting in, they’ve given extra money to do it, and the towns that keep it will be better off economically.”
The downturn in the economy has affected Devens just as it has in the surrounding towns. Even with incentives and expedited permitting, businesses are reluctant to start new projects. But MassDevelopment staff say the phones are starting to ring again, and they’re cautiously optimistic more companies will chose Devens to locate their business.
By WGBHArts | Tuesday, September 18, 2012
By WGBHArts | Friday, August 10, 2012
By Jared Bowen | Friday, November 18, 2011
Nov. 17, 2011
UPTON — Just off Route 495 and bordering Hopkinton where the Boston Marathon starts, Upton has historically been a bedroom community. But it’s waking up as it finds itself in the midst of a record population boom.
Upton is a sleepy town crossed by leafy avenues and dotted with quiet waters. It’s a quintessential New England community where the town common is flanked by the Protestant and Catholic churches, although the latter is now for sale. It’s a place of historic 18th-century homes and grand new ones.
I know it well. It’s the place where I was raised and where people like 66-year-old Nancy LeClaire never found reason to leave.
WGBH News: Where We Live
When LeClaire was growing up in Upton, the place was “out in the sticks. Kind of a just little town,” she said. “We had a farm on each end of town. They delivered your milk in your milk box on the front porch.”
One of those farms remains, a vestige of a simpler time.
It is rather Mayberryish. I spent my childhood riding through Upton’s abundant forest land, climbing the ranks of the Cub Scouts and marching in town parades.
An old-timer reflects on her business success
LeClaire has put that small-town sensibility to work. She is the proprietor of two of Upton’s signature small businesses. One, Fin and Feather Sports, has been open since 1969.
“We ordered some worms from a catalog and started selling worms and nightcrawlers, and then we started selling shiners out of a bathtub. And that’s how the store started,” she said.
The other is a liquor store that she opened with her late husband 20 years ago.
She said, “We named it Liquor Plus and Bud always said the Plus was us!”
The store’s been able to survive even in the down economy. LeClaire chalked it up to the community feeling and service.
”I think it’s the personal contact you have with a person when you come into a store like that, a family-run store. I asked someone the other night how their daughter was, she was in a bad automobile accident. She said, 'Well, thank you for asking.' It meant something to her just for me to ask that question.”
The town's appeal to newcomers
That sensibility endeared the town to Rebecca and Mike Cotter, who moved here with their two daughters two years ago.
“Coming to Upton as a young mom, I was actually really surprised by just the different community activities. And it was very welcoming to us,” said Rebecca Cotter, who is now expecting another child.
Her husband agreed: “We love being here. I feel like we’re living the American Dream.”
Of all the cities and towns in Massachusetts, Upton had the largest percentage of population growth over the last decade. It grew because its soil has always been and still is fertile enough for the American Dream.
“I think for most people it’s having a comfortable home. Having it the way that you want it. Having access to all the conveniences,” Rebecca Cotter described. “We appreciate just the simple things and we love history. So this to us is definitely the American Dream.”
According to the last Census figures, since 2000 Upton has ballooned by roughly 1900 people. Most of them — 91 percent — own their own home. The median family income is well into the six figures.
A difference in priorities between generations
The region thrives enough that a long-dormant railway has been revived. Most farms and open space have given way to large developments, and new construction continues. The Cotters, however, favored a historic home next to the sprawling Sweet William Farm — a place the couple desperately wanted the town to buy and save.
“It’s a piece of history. It’s a rare piece of agricultural New England history nowadays. There’s not many pastures like that left,” Michael Cotter said.
Only half of Upton shared that opinion. Put to a vote this year, the potential purchase of the farm became divisive. The younger, newer population wanted it. Longtime residents didn’t.
LeClaire said, “Most of the older people, of course, didn’t want to spend town money on something like that because they’d been through it before. We bought three other parcels. And I think they felt enough is enough.”
“There was definitely friction,” Michael Cotter said. “It was a very, very close vote, I think it was decided by three votes. So it was somewhat controversial in town.”
In the end the farm was purchased and saved. The contention has quieted. But the line has been drawn. For half the town the American Dream has already been realized. The other half is still making the dream real.