Business View interviews Kassandra Gove, Mayor of Amesbury, Massachusetts, for our focus on Economic Development in U.S. Cities
With its small town feel and big city proximity, Amesbury, Massachusetts has it all. Located at the junction of Highways I-95 and I-495, the city of 17,000 is a welcoming presence at the mouth of the Merrimack River on Boston’s north shore near the New Hampshire border.
“We have a highly accessible location,” says Amesbury Mayor Kassandra Gove. “Amesbury is a very desirable place for people’s employees to live and work and play. We have a very vibrant downtown community with a lot of our residential neighbourhoods walkable to that area. And we are surrounded by open space and farmland, so you get a real mix of everything. We have all the necessities here.”
Founded in 1668, Amesbury was formerly a farming and mill town. Now, it is primarily a bedroom community for nearby cities but also caters to the manufacturing industry, as well as businesses with a unique business model. “Our largest employer is the city itself and next would be manufacturing,” Gove explains. “We have active manufacturers in the community today and a long history of manufacturing, whether it was carriages or automobiles – we actually manufactured the first electric car. Our largest manufacturer now is Munters Corporation, a company that dehumidifies and dries the air. They work with aeronautics, with agriculture, automotive, and a lot of different industries.”
In fact, many of Amesbury’s businesses work in conjunction with other nearby businesses. The city’s location in the Merrimack Valley makes it easy for them to collaborate and source from each other with a lot accessible to them within the region. “The location also makes Amesbury desirable for new businesses to set down roots,” says Angela Cleveland, Director of Community and Economic Development for Amesbury. “In addition to businesses co-locating together within Amesbury, we do consider ourselves part of the regional economy – we are looking at the entire Merrimack Valley together, from the City of Lawrence at one end to our next door neighbor in Newburyport. I think businesses know that we are accessible with the junction of two major roads, but also right next to New Hampshire, so people can dip into Amesbury quickly for things that may not be accessible to New Hampshire.”
Amesbury also offers businesses financial incentives, including a tax increment finance incentive that is currently being used by a hotel, a manufacturer, and a sports complex in the city. “There are a lot of different ways that these businesses have used the TIF to help them remove some of the barriers to entry and to welcome them into our community,” says Cleveland.
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in downtown Amesbury. A recent revitalization of the downtown made use of its historic buildings, but gave them a modern twist. “Over the last 15 years there has been a real focus on reuse and infill in that area where we have our old mill buildings,” says Gove. “They are big, beautiful, brick buildings that are now full of entrepreneurs and residents and folks who are contributing to our downtown area. We have had four really instrumental developments where the large brick buildings have been turned over to small spaces for entrepreneurs. Some of them are focused on artists, some of them are focused on offices and some are more for makers. They may graduate from a smaller space to a little bit bigger and even bigger after that, where they offer loading docks and other amenities. They each have their own personality and we absolutely do encourage that. We have a lot of businesses who are born here – they may graduate and go to nearby communities, but a lot of them start here.”
One of the multi-use downtown facilities includes a shared-use commercial kitchen – one of the first in the area to accommodate caterers, food trucks, and people who had unique business models but lacked the space. Some of the other businesses in these mill buildings include INroof.solar – which creates solar panels, including ones that will soon be added to the building they occupy; Old Newbury Crafters – a silversmith that hammers flatware on site; Carriage Hill Craft Metals – a metalwork company that does both artistic and commercial-industrial work; as well as a drum school, a glass blower, many artists, architects and engineers.
“We have all sorts of people in each big building,” says Cleveland. “It’s pretty cool to see these types of entrepreneurs take it and run with it. There are also the entrepreneurs that are doing the smaller scale things or just working on their idea and testing it out. It gives them the flexibility in a lot of these spaces to take it to the next level.”
The small, multi-use buildings are a way to help small businesses get off the ground. Blackburn Energy was one such business that started in a small space but has since expanded. According to Cleveland, “Blackburn has been making itself well known for having a hybrid engine for diesel trucks, so that when they are at a truck stop – or stop for the night wherever they have to be – they are not contributing greenhouse gas emissions from idling. They are taking it to the next level and were able to do that and bring it to scale and bring their product to market here in Amesbury because of that flexibility in an old mill space.”
Amesbury has such a wealth of entrepreneurs thanks to its vocational schools, like Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School – a unique learning community located on a 110-acre campus. Essex North Shore offers 25 Career Technical Education Programs that have been approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The school trains people to gain apprenticeships in specific programs and jobs, and students leave Essex North Shore with opportunities that aren’t available in traditional schools. Gove reports, “We have our public school system, but we also have two vocational technical schools that our residents can choose to attend. The students at ‘Essex Aggie’ have a great experience and are entrepreneurial in spirit and they come back and contribute to this economy of entrepreneurs that we are talking about.”
In addition to promoting small businesses, sustainable and green initiatives are also a priority for Amesbury. Cleveland notes, “We are trying to take a more sustainable approach to all of our projects. The state actually does require us to look at sustainability principles, but that is something that is also near and dear to me. It’s been part of every job I’ve had for the past 20 years. I encourage communities to look at the social, environmental, and economic ramifications and opportunities that projects can come to bear. So, from anything that we are doing right now – all of our infrastructure, as well as working with our residents and our businesses – that is the approach. We are hoping to use that as the underpinning of everything we do.”
Amesbury was one of the first to process an application through the Massachusetts Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program, which allows property owners to finance the cost of energy improvements and pay it back over time through a betterment assessment on their tax bill. “It’s allowed one of our collaborative spaces, called CI Works, to not only do an entire energy efficiency upgrade of the building, but also install INroof.solar,” says Cleveland. “Helping business owners and residents to have access to programs like that are a priority for Cleveland’s vision of Amesbury moving forward. We are working on how we start promoting that program in a bigger way, so that other businesses can either conduct energy efficiency upgrades or put in clean energy on their building, which I think would end up helping them save money. As well as also being a boon for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions from energy generation.”
For Mayor Gove, whose family members have been Amesbury residents for five generations, focusing on the city’s daily life is her goal for the next five years. “The basics that affect people in our streetscapes, our beautification, slowing down traffic, increasing walkability, the quality of our schools, reuse and infill – and considering especially the effects of the coronavirus and the pandemic on people’s way of life. They are spending more time at home in their neighborhood, so we’re just focusing on the basics.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHAT: A city of 17,000 with a small town feel
WHERE: At the mouth of the Merrimack River, near the New Hampshire border
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