Business Roundup: Unemployment rates; micro-enterprise grants in “limbo”; businesses grow, lose, win, and invest

by beth on August 20, 2020

It’s time for another roundup of business news in Southborough.

A story about high unemployment rate highlights that Southborough wasn’t hit as hard as poor area communities.

Unemployment 30% or higher in some Worcester, Fitchburg neighborhoods – Worcester Business Journal

Neighborhoods in Worcester and Fitchburg struggling with high poverty rates before the coronavirus pandemic hit now have unemployment rates estimated at 30% or higher. . . 

Tracts where the unemployment rate was 12% were predominantly very high-earning areas: Berlin, Grafton, Northborough, Shrewsbury, Southborough, Westborough and certain Worcester neighborhoods. (read more)

As for those in Southborough that are struggling, not all are unemployed. Here is an update on a story I wrote earlier this summer about an oppurtunity for struggling “micro” businesses with five or fewer employees.

“Micro” small businesses can apply for up to $10K in grants

In July, I wrote that the Economic Development Committee secured funding for up to $10K in grants to “micro” small businesses impacted by the pandemic. At that time, EDC Coordinator Marijke Munsiff encouraged eligible business owners to reach out to the EDC. The idea was for the EDC to build a contact list so they could quickly alert businesses when the applications became available.

One month later, the applications still aren’t available. (The EDC anticipates they will be available soon.) Yesterday, Community Advocate covered some of the issues and the different approaches towns are taking:

“Many of these micro-enterprises had to completely shut down due to the pandemic,” Southborough Economic Development Committee Coordinator Marijke Munsiff said. “They have been without income for many months but often still have to continue to pay rent and other costs. So, they are really in a very tough spot.” . . .

Southborough is set to take in $204,000. Marlborough, meanwhile, is getting $280,000. From there, though, that cash is stuck in limbo as both communities wait for officials in Ashland and at the state level to develop an application process for individual businesses.

As a result, local leaders are split on their next steps. . . 

“We’ve been trying to let it fly under the radar until we have more information for people,” [Marlborough Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Meredith Harris] said. “We would like to see what it entails before people start looking too far into it.”

In Southborough, meanwhile, Munsiff’s office has taken a different route.

Microenterprises, Munsiff said, are often some of the hardest businesses for groups like hers to reach. Thus, she said she said swift outreach is crucial.

“The town has a good idea of the many companies that make up the diverse Southborough business community,” she said. “However, there are always a few small businesses and entrepreneurs that are relatively new or operate from home, so they are less visible. We want every single business that meets the requirements, to apply and benefit from this grant opportunity.” . . .

Projecting a possible timeline, Munsiff said she anticipates an online application becoming available to businesses by the end of this month. (read more)

It’s not only small businesses that are impacted by the economy. 

Virtusa operated $200K in the red for the quarter, as revenues fell 6%Worcester Business Journal

Virtusa made announcements earlier this summer on new partnerships. It looks like not all of their news was good this year, though their latest announcement takes a glass-half-full approach:

Information technology company Virtusa, based in Southborough, reported a $193,000 loss in its net income for the company’s first quarter, according to an earnings report issued Thursday.

During the same quarter last year, the company reported nearly $4.8 million in profits. . .

“We are pleased with our better than expected financial results and strong execution in the fiscal first quarter,” said Kris Canekeratne, Virtusa’s chairman and CEO, in a statement. “COVID-19, despite its challenges, has created new opportunities for us to strengthen our position as a leading digital transformation provider to Global 2000 enterprises.” (read more)

Not all businesses were hurt by the pandemic. . .

Inc. 5000 honors 11 Central Mass. fast-growing businesses – Worcester Business Journal

One company based in Southborough sells a service that saw increased demands. RxAdvance Corp. is a pharmacy benefit manager. WBJ covered the company’s growth: 

Almost a dozen Central Mass. companies were named to Inc. magazine’s 2020 list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the world.

The highest scoring Central Massachusetts company this year was pharmacy benefits provider RxAdvance Corp. in Southborough, which ranked 426 on the list. The healthcare company had 1,070% growth in the last three years, according to the report. (read more)

I think it’s a safe bet that growth was related to a big contract the company won earlier this year, signing on Amazon as a client.

Speaking of big contracts. . . 

Block MEMS Awarded $1.7 Million DHS-CWMD Contract to Detect Chemical Threats on Shipped Parcels – PR Newswire

Block MEMS is a small business headquartered in Southborough (though definitely not a “micro”.) Earlier this month, the company announced its most recent big government contract:

 Block MEMS, LLC (Block) has been awarded a contract by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) for on-the-move standoff detection of trace quantities of drugs such as fentanyl, explosives, chemical warfare agents (CWAs) and toxic chemicals on parcels shipped to and within the United States. 

Under this newly awarded contract, Block MEMS will develop a fieldable prototype Trace Chemical Detector (TCD) to screen the outside surfaces of parcels for trace chemicals while they are being transported on a conveyor belt at operational speeds. The TCD will be able to detect the chemicals of interest including explosives, opioids, chemical agents, agent precursors, and pharmaceuticals at relevant concentration levels. This program will culminate with an operational system being performance tested at a government designated facility in an operational environment.

This effort will significantly leverage Block’s current contract “Standoff Illuminator for Measuring Absorbance and Reflectance Infrared Light Signatures” (SILMARILS) program funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity and managed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (read more)

Another business was in the news for the money it recently invested in its Southborough location.

Southborough Cadillac dealership pays $2.6M for its Route 9 siteWorcester Business Journal

Long Cadillac purchased the land it has been leasing in Southborough.

Cadillac automotive dealership on Route 9 in Southborough has bought its property for $2.6 million. . .

R.H. Long Motor Sales bought the site, 218, 222 and 224 Turnpike Road. . .

The 32,000-square-foot dealership, called Long Cadillac, was built in 2005 on a property last assessed by the Town of Southborough at nearly $5.8 million. The nearly 11-acre site sits just west of the interchange of Route 9 and Route 85. (read more)

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