Few would have predicted a year ago that Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 would become the leader of a new pro-business city council.
But when one of Cambridge's leading biotech firms, Genzyme Corp., spurned the city in December and opted to build its $75 million headquarters in Allston instead, financial realities forced the city council to act.
Genzyme's announcement, along with the loss of several established Cambridge businesses to the recession, prompted Reeves to steer the council in a new direction. In his inaugural address, Reeves vowed to bury Cambridge's reputation as an anti-business town.
Local pro-business advocates applaud the council's move and say the new attitude is essential to keeping businesses in the city during the recession.
"Since Genzyme was wooed across the river and since the new leadership in the City Council, the attitude of the elected city officials [toward business] has markedly improved," says Robert D. Lewis, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Cambridge officials are also quick to pitch the government's new paradigm. "The city recognizes that the needs of business cannot be ignored," says James P. Maloney, finance director.
The new stance is a pointed reversal for a city with a history of favoring environmental and residential concerns over those of businesses. Indeed, few expected such a shift from a city council that retained its 5-4 Cambridge Civic Association-backed majority in November.
Liberal councillors were often accused of being "anti-business" in their efforts to control growth. Local corporations charged that the council made life difficult for them with their efforts to achieve environmental growths.
Today, Maloney emphasizes that the city takes care to avoid "overly onerous restrictions," He says city government wants the business sector to know that it is listening.
The attentiveness isn't accidental. Cambridge will need approximately $125 million during the next five years to build a new hospital and new schools, Maloney says.
"We can't do it if we don't have a strong thriving economy," he says. "There's only one way to pay for all that: a strong tax base."
And the Chamber of Commerce says the bulk of that money must come from business.
According to Lewis, more than half of the city's land is tax exempt. That means Cambridge gets twothirds of its tax income from the business community.
With key biotech firms threatening to leave and the amount of office space in Central Square climbing toward 150,000 sq. feet, Lewis says the city recognizes the pressing need to retain both big and small businesses.
The pressure to cushion the impact of the recession was highlighted as some of the city's oldest businesses went under. Harvard square's J.F. Olsson's, which survived the Great Depression, closed its doors this February after 107 years.