Economy, housing crunch grow Report commissioned by FSU finds home sales flat

FRAMINGHAM – With home prices on the rise, and new jobs being added each year, the local economy continues to grow.

That was the takeaway from a new report by researchers at Framingham State University, who found employment in Greater MetroWest moved upward over the last two years, continuing a record-breaking streak.

“The report showed that we continued to have strong growth in the region, which I think is a wonderful indicator showing that a lot of the work that we’re all doing is certainly paying off,” said Meredith Harris, executive director of the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation.

The report – produced by the MetroWest Economic Research Center (MERC) at Framingham State University – found that annual employment in the region reached a record 190,500 jobs in 2016, up 0.8 percent, or 1,500 jobs, from the previous year.

Professional and business service companies generated the largest share of employment in the region, accounting for some 23 percent of all jobs, followed by companies in the trade, transportation and utilities sectors, which accounted for about 19 percent.

Employment in education and health services continued to rise, accounting for about 13 percent of all jobs, while manufacturing – which previously employed a large share of local workers – continued a downward slide.

Manufacturing jobs fell to 13 percent of the economic base in Greater MetroWest in 2016, down from 20 percent near the turn of the millennium.

Despite strong performance in the job market, researchers at FSU highlighted some economic challenges for residents, including a shortage of available housing and the high cost of living throughout the Northeast.

Economics professor Fahlino F. Sjuib, interim chairman of FSU’s Department of Accounting, Economics & Finance, wrote that questions on affordability and sustainability “linger at the forefront for town planners, residents and businesses.”

Region at a glance

The 2018 Greater MetroWest Economic Profile, released this month, provides a snapshot of the latest data on employment, housing, cost of living, municipal finances and public education in the region.

It focuses on communities between Boston and Worcester, stretching from Northborough to the west to Hudson and Sudbury to the north, Natick to the east and Holliston and Hopkinton to the south.

With a population approaching 300,000, the area boasts a well-educated, highly-skilled labor force, and household incomes higher than the state average.

Businesses in the region generated 6.2 percent of the state’s overall payroll. In addition to small and medium-sized firms, many large national companies maintain a local presence, including Bose, Boston Scientific, Cumberland/Gulf, Dell/EMC, Sanofi Genzyme, Staples and TJX.

Unemployment in the region was lower last year than across Massachusetts as a whole – a trend that has been in place for more than two decades. In MetroWest, the unemployment rate ticked down to 2.7 percent last year, while it stood at 3.2 percent in Marlborough and surrounding towns.

The average annual wage across the region climbed to $76,500 in 2016, compared to $67,500 statewide. Greater MetroWest also set a record for the number of individual establishments located here. Researchers documented more than 11,000 separate places of work, with an average of more than 16 jobs at each site.

High housing costs

While employment has trended in a positive direction, participants at a recent panel discussion in Natick spoke about the lack of housing options for workers.

According to the report, new housing construction is down, with the number of new residential housing permits issued for single-family homes in greater MetroWest dropping by about 112 units last year. Hopkinton and Holliston saw the largest share of permits issued, followed by Framingham.

At the same time, the growth in home sales in the region was flat last year. Those factors helped drive up prices, pushing the estimated median sale price for a single-family home to just shy of $499,000 last year – an increase of more than 140 percent since 1988.

Speaking with brokers in the area, Harris said housing inventory is down, and the housing crunch is exacerbated by a lack of available land for new construction.

“It’s something that we talk about in Marlborough a lot,” Harris said. “We’ve got lots of companies that we’re bringing in, and not always enough housing stock to make sure that they actually are living, working and playing here in MetroWest.”

Typical household goods are also becoming more expensive. The cost of living for the MetroWest region is up about 31 percent compared to 2009, according to the report.

To measure the cost of living, MERC looked at 57 typical items that professional and executive households buy, such as groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, health care and miscellaneous goods and services.

Based on local prices, the cost of living in MetroWest is about 40 percent higher than the national average. The disparity in housing costs is even more stark; housing costs in the region were nearly double the national average, as of October 2017, according to the report.

This article provided by NewsEdge.