By Shawn Regan
HAVERHILL — Attracting biotechnology companies to the city is a key to keeping property taxes low and creating new, high-paying jobs for residents, Mayor James Fiorentini said.
Haverhill is working to attract such cutting-edge companies to the city's new industrial park on upper Hilldale Avenue near the New Hampshire line, the mayor said.
Haverhill recently spent $1 million in state and city money to extend sewer service to the area. Last week, city officials toured the park with representatives from the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, a private industry group with 550 member businesses in the life sciences field.
Biotech companies typically specialize in pharmaceuticals and genetic research.
While the state has already designated the upper Hilldale park as a "priority development site," the Biotech Council is considering a rating of "biotech ready" for the sprawling, wooded property just north of St. Joseph Cemetery.
The park includes five lots, the largest of which is 88 acres and could be subdivided into several buildable parcels, said William Pillsbury, the city's economic development director.
The "biotech ready" rating would be publicized within the Biotech Council and throughout the state and country by business groups and city and state economic development officials, Fiorentini said.
"A rating that we were biotech ready would be a major help in marketing that site," the mayor said. "Haverhill is not immune from recession. If companies do not expand, no amount of incentives will get them to expand here. But our goal is to be ready when the economy turns."
Fiorentini said the city intends to follow up the new ratings with a review of zoning and health regulations for the park to make sure it is as appealing as possible to biotechnology companies.
Haverhill is also working with regional traffic officials to install traffic lights where upper Hilldale intersects with Route 121 at the New Hampshire border, to allow for a smoother flow for vehicles coming and going from businesses there.
The infrastructure upgrades are geared toward making the rural area into Haverhill's new industrial/business park, Pillsbury said. The area was once best known for illegal dumping and as a shortcut to New Hampshire.
The park includes land on both sides of the street along a stretch that is about a half-mile long.
It now has three businesses — Pella Windows & Doors, SAFC High Tech and WBC Extrusion Products Inc.
Construction of a complex containing what Pillsbury called industrial "flex space" is also underway. Called Hilldale Industrial Properties, it will offer businesses places for industrial uses such as warehousing and research and development.
The Biotechnology Council is not the first industry group to consider improved business ratings for Haverhill.
In November, Haverhill was ranked the 29th most attractive for high-tech companies looking to set up shop by the Massachusetts High Technology Council. The city ranked 244 out of 351 communities the previous year.
At the time, officials with the high-tech group said Haverhill's improved rating was a result of a faster permitting process for new commercial developments and the proximity of educated workers and new housing in the area.