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Hiring Heats Up Along Rt. 128

May 16, 2013Boston Globe, Council in the News

By Scott Van Voorhis
Boston Globe

The job market along the Route 128 corridor is back. And it’s not just all about the corporate giants.

A bevy of small and midsize life science and high-tech companies are out front in this welcome trend, helping lead the way.

We are talking a few dozen hires here, another dozen or so there. It’s not the kind of stuff that grabs big headlines, but it all adds up.

Just take Affinnova Inc., which makes software used by companies like Procter & Gamble and Unilever to design new products.

The Waltham-based operation plans to add another 25 software engineers and other specialists, a significant increase to its 100-person payroll.

Located just off Route 128/Interstate 95 on Winter Street, the software company recently opened up sales offices in Singapore and Chicago.

“It’s across the board,” Waleed Al-Atraqchi, Affinnova’s chief executive, said of his company’s hiring plans. “We are going global.”

Still, the big players aren’t exactly sitting on their thumbs.

Shire PLC has just wrapped up a $500 million-plus project involving five buildings on its campus in Lexington, said Jessica Cotrone, a company spokeswoman.

Shire, with roughly a thousand employees in Lexington, announced plans last fall to add another 400 over the next few years.

Not far from the 128 corridor in Natick, software developer MathWorks Inc. is in the midst of hiring another 400 employees this year. Most of them will be in Natick, where the company controls hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and research space, according to spokesman Len Dieterle.

To make room for all of its new employees, the company recently bought the Boston Scientific campus, also on Route 9, Dieterle said.

And Newton-based Trip­Advisor Inc. is also expanding fast, with a big need for software engineers. The company plans to hire another 200 employees over the next two years, bringing the total at its headquarters complex to more than 700.

To accommodate its growth plans, the company is finalizing plans to move to a new, 280,000-square-foot headquarters complex next door in Needham, also alongside the highway, said Tyler Young, vice president of finance.

“Our intention is to stay out here on the 128 loop,” Young said. “It sets us apart from all the competition in Cambridge. We believe there is an advantage to staying put out here.”

Yet for every Shire, MathWorks or even TripAdvisor rolling out huge corporate campuses, there are several other companies out there hiring as well, just on a smaller scale.

In Woburn, a major office market hub at the northern junction of I-95 and Interstate 93, Stephen Orenberg has seen Kaspersky Lab’s US subsidiary expand from a small outpost with a couple of dozen employees to an operation twelve times the size.

The antivirus and software security company is wrapping up a major hiring campaign, and will employ 250 across the country by the year’s end, including 180 in its offices in Woburn’s Unicorn Office Park, said Orenberg, president of the company’s North American subsidiary.

The company has been hiring for a range of positions, from public relations and marketing to financial and legal, he said.

“We were just a start-up subsidiary when we opened in 2005,” Orenberg said. “It was just me and a few other people from the industry I knew.”

Waltham-based Nova Biomedical, which produces self-monitoring glucose blood meters and similar products, plans to hire another 15 to 20 employees in Waltham and dozens more in Billerica, where it is adding a third shift to a new plant it opened two years ago, said Reno Nolli, director of treasury operations.

The company now has nearly 700 employees in Massachusetts.

“We are doing our share,” Nolli said.

Nova Biomedical is among nine life science companies along the 128 corridor that are planning to hire another 400 employees, according to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

The companies will earn state tax credits aimed at spurring payroll expansion.

Some are big players, like PerkinElmer Inc., which plans to add 60 jobs to its Waltham operations, the industry center reports.

Others are like Synageva BioPharma Corp., a small Lexington-based outfit specializing in development treatments for rare diseases that plans to hire another 32 employees, according to the center.

Organogenesis Inc. in Canton has said it will add 35 employees, while Beverly-based Enzymatics Inc. is adding 10 new hires, the center reports.

So why Route 128?

As is often the case in real estate, the highway has won over these fast-growing companies for three simple reasons: location, location, location.

Setting up shop in Waltham, right by Route 128’s interchange with the Massachusetts Turnpike, gives Affinnova the ability to tap into young talent in Boston and Cambridge as well as the suburbs.

“You can’t revolutionize the way companies innovate with anything less than an all-star team,” Al-Atraqchi, Affinnova’s chief executive, said in December at an Inc. magazine awards ceremony for fast-growing small companies.

And given skyrocketing rents in Cambridge and Boston, there is also a better chance of snagging a more reasonable deal on space as well.

The company, which already occupies a 22,000-square-foot level in a four-story office building at 265 Winter St. in Waltham, is working on a deal to double its space by taking another floor, he said.

Try doing that in Kendall Square in Cambridge, or even Boston’s Seaport/Innovation District.

“It’s fairly priced,” Al-Atraqchi said of the Waltham market. “It’s moved from the bottom a few years ago and has clearly stabilized.”

For his part, Orenberg, head of Kaspersky’s North American operations, lives in Boston and does a reverse commute to Woburn.

He said he is not at all envious of the crush of commuters he sees every morning heading into the city.

“It’s really cool to be in Boston with some of the other new development,’’ he said, until you consider the office rents that their companies are paying.

Scott B. Van Voorhis can be reached at sbvanvoorhis@ hotmail.com.

Increasingly, the Massachusetts High Technology Council is stepping up to create, execute, and lead critical statewide competitiveness strategies. Fostering a vision for our innovation economy under the MassVision2050 banner, the Council solidifies its position as a thought leader providing valuable insights to navigate emerging technologies, facilitates long-term planning, and reinforces the Council's commitment to excellence and action in the evolving Massachusetts tech-driven economy.

To learn more, contact Council President Chris Anderson.