It’s hard for the suburbs to compete with the attraction of city life.
After all, cities like Boston offer plenty of public transportation, restaurants, bars, and (depending where your office is located) access to outdoor spaces like the Boston Common or the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
A recent report found over 500 companies have moved to urban centers over the last five years, including a few in Boston.
Now a series of suburban development projects around the Greater Boston area may offer companies and residents a way to draw employees back, with increased access to outdoor spaces and retail options within walking distance from work.
In Burlington, National Development is helping to transform the business sector formerly known as the New England Executive Park (NEEP) into an expansive campus with a hotel, six restaurants, stores, a series of parks and outdoor spaces, and 80,000 square feet of upgraded office spaces. The project – a collaboration between National Development, AEW Capital Management, and Charles River Realty Investors – has also rebranded NEEP as The District Burlington.
“It’s really about the re-imagining of the typical suburban office landscape,’’ National Development Senior Vice President Andrew Gallinaro told Boston.com in a phone call. “In many properties in the suburbs, to the extent possible, employers are looking to replicate a bit of the urban environment in the suburban arena.’’
Part of the project’s goal as Gallinaro explained it, is to help employees enjoy themselves while they are on the job by fostering a sense of community through The District’s amenities, including parks, walking trails, and an on-site bike share program. Emphasizing the development’s outdoor spaces is one of the best ways for suburban-based companies to lure talent, he says.
“The suburban environment has generous green space, which is a big thing for focusing on employee wellness,’’ said Gallinaro. “Employees can take a break, go for a walk along a trail, go outside to work out, and enjoy the natural setting.’’
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Cool office spaces around Boston
In addition to The District development project in Burlington, MarketStreet in Lynnfield mixes offices among a large outdoor shopping area. Meanwhile, the CityPoint project in Waltham also seeks to blend new workspaces, retail, and outdoor amenities.
“There’s a plethora of retail and walk-to amenities that is thriving in the suburban market,’’ said Matt Daniels, managing director of JLL’s Boston office. Daniels, who oversees all of JLL’s Cambridge and suburban leasing properties, believes the upgrade in suburban amenities reflects a shift in prioritizing workers’ needs over those of the bosses.
“We’ve seen over the last decade that decisions about where to move is no longer about what’s best for the decision-maker,’’ said Daniels. “It’s about how do you attract the best talent.’’
And part of that agenda is making sure these projects are designed to attract younger workers.
“For many companies, millennials are a significant portion of the employment base here in Mass.,’’ said Daniels. “Developments in Burlington and Waltham try to create a lifestyle-based package that millennials are looking for that includes fitness, food, and drinks.’’
But not every company is looking at the suburbs to attract millennial workers. PI Worldwide, a behavioral assessment technology company with about 50 employees, is relocating from Wellesley to a new office space at University Station in Westwood. With only 15 millennial employees on his staff, Zani said his priority was to minimize disruption to his entire workforce, not just the younger employees.
“If we were singularly targeting millennials, we would have gone into the city,’’ Zani told Boston.com. “Being 13 minutes outside the city from South Station, we felt we could strike a healthy balance.’’
The company’s new office is about 13 miles south of the company’s current location in Wellesley and close to the Westwood MBTA commuter rail stop. University Station offers access to several big-name stores and restaurants and even features apartment living.
Zani does not think the suburbs have a strong advantage over a city location. But he does believe the suburbs offer benefits to both older employees who have started families and to younger employees who may be heading down that path eventually.
“As the tech community ages and starts developing those drivers like family and children, I can see [the suburbs] becoming more attractive,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the new 282,000-square foot TripAdvisor headquarters in Needham opened earlier this month. The building’s interior was designed by Baker Design Group and the property features a large outdoor amphitheater and is adjacent to public walking and bike trails and includes a bike-share program for company employees.
Baker Design Group president and founder Stephen Baker said the TripAdvisor project was also built with more than millennial employees in mind.
“One thing we hear about millennials is they want to be part of something bigger than themselves,’’ Baker told Boston.com. “That’s true for millennials but for other generations as well.’’
Baker said the building’s design will help the company solidify a sense of community.
“In an urban setting, there’s a tendency for a community to scatter at lunchtime,’’ said Baker. “We’ve had to create the place to scatter to…There’s a greater sense of working, relaxing, socializing, and playing with the TripAdvisor family because you’re on the Trip campus, not pulled away by the features the city is offering.’’
This setting, says Baker, will ultimately strengthen the company’s identity.
“The community becomes tighter and has never had a greater sense of camaraderie,’’ said Baker. “The sense of community grows stronger among employees due to [the company’s] unique isolation.’’