MIT students present findings from study

Adam Urquhart MIT graduate student, Ari Ofsevit presents recommendations for Nashua’s economy to both the public and city officials.

NASHUA – Graduate students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology presented their final economic development recommendations for the city to the public Tuesday night.

At 4 p.m., city officials and the public joined the students in the Nashua City Hall Auditorium to listen to their presentation. These recommendations are the culmination of conducting several months of research in three areas: Nashua’s economic base and workforce, entrepreneurial and new business development and the development of Nashua’s Mill District.

Maggie Dunne, a student in Karl Seidman’s class said, “Everyone we met really opened their networks and hearts to give back to Nashua, and we’re really excited to make public the findings and recommendations that come out of this plan.”

Seidman is the senior lecturer in economic development at MIT, and under his guidance, students took on this endeavor with three objectives in mind. The first is to spur robust, equitable and accessible entrepreneurial development by stewarding entrepreneurship in high-potential, technology-based industries and re-integrating local and regional resources for entrepreneurs. The second is to foster development of a vibrant mixed-use millyard district that is seamlessly integrated with Nashua’s downtown and serves as a hub for entrepreneurial innovation and civic identity. The final objective is to pursue a place-based workforce development program to connect concentrations of unemployed/underemployed residents with centers of employment in the community.

“As we pull together the final product, you’ll see that we chose to frame the context of the framework around the broader theme of resilience,” Dunne said.

She said they saw that Nashua thrived as a manufacturing city during the early 1900s, but despite manufacturing no longer being the main industry, they saw Nashua was still resilient.

“We saw Nashua was resilient and will continue to be resilient, and we hope the product of the plan and recommendations will be taken into consideration,” Dunne said.

As far as entrepreneurship goes, students found that despite being the most diverse city in the state, that diversity is not reflected in entrepreneurship or the small business community. They found that more men than women identify as an entrepreneur or self-employed. They found that the majority of the land in the Millyard is classified as mix use, and identified specific buildings and properties where investment could make a big impact in that part of the city. Also, they identified the need for increased parking in the Millyard district.

As far as workforce development goes, Ari Ofsevit, a student in Seidman’s class, presented a four-step process they came up with. That process is to convene, create, connect and grow and, in doing so, they focused on the healthcare sector.

By using healthcare jobs as a pilot Ofsevit said, “We’d use existing job training resources and identify gaps needed to be filled. The major gap for employees is the ability to afford time off from work for training.”

He said they recommend the city work with educational institutions, health-related employers and social services for workforce development in Nashua.

By convening together, creating small providers looking to employ local people in their practices, connecting industry partners and growing that industry he said, “We don’t want the city or a college to run the show. It works best if we’re working together.”

He said with tweaks and changes, this process could be used to grow other industries. Under this process for workforce development, the estimated timeline would be six months for the near term, one to three years for the mid-term and three years for the long term.

Sanjay Kumar also recommended, “We want the city to focus on high wage industries, because they have a high potential for growth.”

He said they found that there is a lot of resources in and around the city that help entrepreneurial development, but many they interviewed found it was difficult to navigate to those resources.

One recommendation was to improve the current webpage to create a one-stop web page for regional business development support resources. Another recommendation he made was to be more proactive in the recruitment of minorities and women through community nonprofits by creating a community pitch night. Whether that night is set monthly or quarterly, it would give an opportunity for folks to sit down together and have their ideas heard and receive feedback on them.

While highlighting inclusivity and accessibility, Kumar recommended adding another downtown space to support artists and media entrepreneurs with dedicated, affordable space with shared technology and supplies.

Other recommendations that were highlighted include, pursuing sector-based strategy for entrepreneurial development in high-wage potential industries, reorganizing business development resources in order to improve navigation and coordination, being inclusive, when focusing on entrepreneurial development amongst women and minorities and developing an ecosystem for creative business before the construction of the Performing Arts Center.

Kun Cheng also presented, and one of the recommendations he brought forth was distract branding of the Millyard. Other recommendations are to utilize city parcels as catalytic developments, create cohesive district branding, pursue urban design improvements and establishing a Millyard business improvement district.

Within the next week, the city will post the student’s findings and recommendations to their website for the public to view online.

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.