Why The Green Line Extension is Really an “Innovation Extension”

Completing the project will help create a new entrepreneurial corridor that will benefit the entire greater Boston region

By: Emily Reichert, Ph.D., MBA

What do Altaeros Energies, Voxel8 and Autonomous Marine Systems have in common? For starters, they’re all startup companies developing “firsts” in their respective fields: the world’s first fully-functional airborne wind turbine, the world’s first 3D electronics printer and the world’s first self-righting catamaran with networking capabilities. Each company is well on its way to developing an innovative technology that’s sure to disrupt its sector.

Collectively, the three companies employ more than 75 people, have raised more than $30M in funding and are growing rapidly.

And furthermore, they’re all headquartered out of Greentown Labs in the Union Square neighborhood of Somerville. This hidden gem community, which is just three miles north of Boston and less than two miles from Kendall Square, is already buzzing with entrepreneurs, artists and makers. And what would make it buzz even louder? Bringing the Green Line Extension to completion.

In fact, not only will the extension increase the startup activity in Union Square, we believe it will transform the older industrial stretch between East Cambridge and East Somerville that connects Kendall Square and Union Square, creating another neighborhood that can help drive our local economy.

Why is the Green Line so important to this kind of economic growth? For decades, our state’s tech corridor ran along Route 128, a suburban stretch fueled exclusively by the automobile. But over the past 10 years we’ve seen the entrepreneurial sector migrate toward urban areas with public transit, especially as younger workers lead car-less lifestyles. Today, the Red Line is the state’s main high tech corridor, with companies thriving up and down it, from Quincy to Cambridge.

And that’s what we expect from the Green Line Extension. Greentown Labs is the largest cleantech startup incubator in the United States and is home to more than 50 hardware-focused early-stage companies. We operate a 40,000 sq. ft. facility that enables entrepreneurs to solve today’s biggest energy and environmental challenges. A Green Line station right in our neighborhood would immensely help in our mission to support growing cleantech startups, giving them direct access to the resources they need to thrive. And even more, a Green Line Station would move Greentown Labs closer to its bigger mission: launching a Global Center for Cleantech Innovation which will help the City of Somerville attain its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and further support the Commonwealth’s statewide sustainability goals.

Questions about the cost of the Extension have been raised recently, leading to conversations discussing the potential termination of the project. We know state leaders are working hard to develop a responsible budget for the project, but its possible demise is quite distressing for those of us already invested or planning to invest in the region.

Since Greentown Labs was founded in 2011, we have supported 103 companies and those firms created more than 400 jobs, raised more than $180 million in funding and, last year alone, created a direct economic output of $182.5 million. We host a constant stream of events and programs for the cleantech community and more than 5,000 visitors tour our facility each year. Due to an overwhelming demand from entrepreneurs to join Greentown Labs, we will expand our Somerville footprint in 2017 with the opening of our Global Center for Cleantech Innovation.

We’d like to think we’re doing our part to fuel the state’s economic engine but we don’t want to stop there. We want to continue to attract talent from around the country and the world to be an example of global innovation and we need to use all the ingredients necessary to make that vision a reality. Based on the Red Line’s example, public transit has proven to be a key ingredient in this effort. To unlock the next great Massachusetts innovation corridor, we need the Green Line Extension work to continue. For the good of the regional and the state economy, we should stay the course and finish the job.