OpenCape Could Bring New Jobs, New Workplaces to Falmouth
By: Brent Runyon
Over the next year and a half, OpenCape will establish a regional fiber optic broadband infrastructure to tie together the business, public safety, and education sectors on Cape Cod.
OpenCape will be the most important new tool to spur economic development on Cape Cod in the last 40 years, said Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, speaking Wednesday before a subcommittee tasked with finding ways to promote economic sustainability in Falmouth.
The subcommittee, made up of two Falmouth selectmen, two members of the Falmouth Planning Board, and two members of the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation, met with Mr. Niedzwiecki and the OpenCape team to discuss what the new infrastructure will mean to Falmouth’s economy.
In Falmouth, OpenCape will span the length and breadth of the town, from the North Falmouth border with Bourne down to Woods Hole, back up through Falmouth center and out Route 28 through East Falmouth to Mashpee.
The infrastructure will connect the education institutions in Woods Hole, all the Falmouth libraries, except North Falmouth because of its distance from the planned route for the cable, as well as Falmouth High School and the Falmouth Fire Rescue station, which is the hub for the town’s network.
The project will not connect individual homes or businesses, but will be the backbone of the new infrastructure, and create new business opportunities.
It will be up to private companies to provide “last mile services” to deliver the super high speed connections to businesses and homes.
Construction of the OpenCape regional data center, which will be in the former 911 emergency dispatch center in Barnstable, is scheduled to begin next week, Mr. Gallagher said.
The project is expected to be completed in January 2013, when the federal grant funding the construction expires, with some portions of the service online by summer 2012.
A potential game-changer
Mr. Niedzwiecki said 15,000 Cape Cod residents commute off Cape every day. With OpenCape it will be possible for those people to work from home, or at a local facility with the high speed service to connect to their jobs.
“Moving people to work is wrongheaded, we should be moving work to people,” said Daniel Gallagher, chief executive officer of the nonprofit OpenCape Corporation.
“The biggest impediment to economic growth is the Cape Cod Canal,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said. The OpenCape network will neutralize the negative impact of the canal, he said.
Anthony DaSilva, vice president of sales and business development for CapeNet, which will design, construct, and operate the $40 million network, said the company will also build some of the lateral connections to the private businesses along the route.
Mr. DaSilva said it will cost roughly $5,000 for a tenth of a mile of fiber optic lines, but businesses can also be connected to the network by wireless signals to the telephone poles. Buildings connected to the network will likely be worth more, he said.
“Now is the time to install the laterals,” said Arthur S. Gaylord, the director of computer and information services at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The new service will connect Falmouth Technology Park on Thomas B. Landers Road, which currently has an extremely poor connection, and create opportunities for growth and new businesses there.
Michael B. Galasso, chairman of the EDIC, said his organization may be able to help pay for laterals to buildings at the Falmouth Technology Park and Raymond Technology Park in North Falmouth to encourage more growth.
Mr. Galasso said he would like to review the detailed route of the network to identify the best places for businesses to connect. A Google Earth computer file is available on the OpenCape website, which has details such as which telephone pole the fiber optics will hang from, Mr. Gallagher said.
Falmouth is in one of the better positions on the Cape to take advantage of the new network and the changes in the economy, Mr. Niedzwiecki said.
“If you think it’s bad here, it’s worse everywhere else,” he said.
Attracting youth & growth
But if Falmouth is to take full advantage of the OpenCape network, Mr. Niedzwiecki said, it may want to consider raising the threshold for Cape Cod Commission review to encourage larger businesses to come here. The Cape Cod Commission reviews any project that is larger than 10,000 square feet.
Because Falmouth has planned well and is sticking with that plan, Mr. Niedzwiecki said, the Cape Cod Commission has had less need to be involved. Town Planner Brian A. Currie deserved credit for planning the town’s development well, Mr. Niedzwiecki said.
“We’re kind of like teachers; we tend to spend a lot more time with the bad students than the good students,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said.
Another advantage Falmouth has is the established EDIC, which developed Falmouth Technology Park and Raymond Technology Park, and has now sold most of the land it once owned.
“Falmouth’s EDIC is one of the most mature in the state,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said.
The group discussed whether Falmouth is a difficult place to do business or whether that is just a perception.
Mr. Currie said that in his opinion the regulations in town do not create an impediment to economic development.
“You don’t, but the business community does,” Mr. Galasso said.
Mr. Currie said he had once worked as an economic development planner, and had read surveys of the nation’s chief executive officers that taxes and regulations are not as important when deciding where to do business as one might think.
Mr. Niedzwiecki said Falmouth should look at encouraging more density and growth, especially in its downtown and Main Street areas. Building smaller apartments and condominiums above storefronts will bring the costs down, and encourage young people to move here.
He said a development on Main Street, Hyannis, is one of the first to build small units of around 700 square feet, and has sold out the first and second phases of the project, and is now building a third phase.
“The most serious threat to the Cape’s economy is the older community,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said. “We need to create a place where young people want to live.”
“You need to get away from building for baby boomers,” he said. “If it works in Hyannis, it’s going to work ten times better in Falmouth.”
Mr. Currie said the town had resisted adding too much density to Main Street, Falmouth, but when it rezoned East Main Street to business redevelopment zoning, the town included a by-right use of six units per acre, with up to eight units by special permit.
“I was happy to get six,” he said.
Planning board member Patricia H. Kerfoot said there will be resistance to building more densely on Main Street because of environmental factors, shadows from the large buildings, and wind tunnel effects.
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