United Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jack Lank has had a very eventful month.
Wearing a blue polo shirt emblazoned with the chamber’s logo and surrounded by half-empty boxes, Lank was still in the process of moving from the Chamber’s Plainville building into the new location on E. Washington Street, adjacent to Route 1.
“It’s been a busy move,” Lank said. “Lots of back and forth.”
The North Star Reporter sat down with Lank to discuss the move from Plainville to North Attleborough, the role of the Chamber of Commerce, his thoughts on housing, and the rise of new businesses in the area.
You’ve moved your office into North Attleborough. Why North Attleborough?
The building that we were in, in Plainville, got sold. So all of all of us had to move. I searched for a month and a half, and then one of my members, who happens to be in the same building, called me and said, “Hey, why don’t you talk to my landlord?” We came over here and saw this was a perfect location on Route 1. So we moved in and are still in the process of moving.
Do you like it here?
It’s a great location. It gives us a little bit of frontage. North Attleborough has always been business-friendly. I work a lot with Town Manager Mike Borg as well.
What is the purpose of the Chamber of Commerce?
A Chamber of Commerce is an organization that is made up of entrepreneurs and local businesses. Our biggest thing with the United Regional Chamber is that we’re not just the Chamber of Commerce—we are a chamber of connections.
We put on educational seminars and workshops; we have affiliations with the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center and all sorts of opportunities for the 16 communities from Seekonk to Franklin.
When did you become president, and how long have you been in this position?
Well, I’ve been the president here since 2006. Before that, I was on the board of directors and a partner in a mortgage company. When the previous president was leaving, they asked if I would consider taking over the post. In another week or so, it will be 18 years since I’ve been here.
There seems to be more of a push for business going downtown than on Route 1. Are you seeing this shift, too?
Well, in a small way, it makes it walkable. When you’re downtown, you can park in one spot and hit four or five of the local businesses. As we’ve seen, Route 1 is more commercialized. There are more billboards and fancy lights. You know, up and down Route 1 and it is a US Highway. I watch people in front of my building, going 40 to 50 miles an hour. That’s not really convenient to go into business and have the traffic zooming by like this.
So why is this happening?
As a representative for small businesses, we always want as much foot traffic as possible. You know there’s not a lot of public transportation.
Well, there is GATRA.
There is GATRA, and we work with GATRA to make it more walkable. Everybody’s environmentally conscious. The less you have to drive, you know, the more it’s better for the environment.
Where do you see business heading in North Attleborough?
We’re working with Mike Borg to attract some life science buildings and businesses into town. Manufacturing is kind of taking a backseat here in this region. We have been known as the jewelry capital for a long time. Unfortunately, we lost many big businesses to out-of-state and out-of-country companies.
There are still many manufacturing companies in North Attleborough and out of our area that employ most of our folks. We have turned more into a bedroom community. You have I-495, I-95, and Route 1. It is very easy to get to and very convenient.
The town is trying to tweak its zoning laws for more mixed-use developments and affordable housing. Does zoning have an impact on businesses?
Oh, without a doubt. You can only open up businesses in certain zoned areas. I’ll give you a quick example. One of the other companies that had to move out of our building opened up in a neighboring community.
The building inspector showed up and said he needed to follow the zoning for what you’re trying to do. So he had to close down and move again. So yes, it does affect business as much as it does affect your residential properties.
In Massachusetts, zoning kept residential and businesses separated. There has been a push by some in North Attleborough and surrounding communities to ease the zoning for better businesses and more affordable housing. Do you support that effort?
We need more affordable housing. It is a big need all around the state, especially in this area right now. I’ve lived in the area for almost 40 years, and when I first bought my house, I couldn’t afford to live in the Braintree, Quincy, or the Jamaica Plain area.
That’s what a lot of young professionals are finding right now. You can’t afford to buy something up in the suburbs of Boston.
It is astronomical—the asking price for some of these homes and the mortgage cost, especially now. So, yes, a huge need is here for affordable housing.
Recently, the Massachusetts legislature and Governor Healey approved a tax cut bill and said this is helpful for businesses and renters.
According to a report from WBUR, this would only allow $50 to be saved per renter. What are your thoughts on this recent piece of legislation, and does it not meet the demand of what people are asking for?
The businesses do need tax cuts because it’s the businesses that employ these people who are looking to rent or buy homes. Some communities still want to put the burden of taxes onto the companies, which, from the Chamber’s point of view, is, to me, very unfair.
As a business, you don’t use the schools and must pay for your trash. You have to pay for your water utility usage and the septic usage. So, that’s why the business is needed as much as possible.
One of the biggest needs my members and most businesses talk about is employees. If we can’t house them here affordably, we can’t get them here, and that’s a big issue. The government red tape is not just this administration; the red tape you must go through is very frustrating. It’s too long as far as we’re concerned.
There has been a recent push from town and state officials to expedite work permits for immigrants currently residing in the Best Western Hotel here in North Attleborough. Where does the Chamber stand on the recent arrival of these families, and do you support the push to help them find work in the area?
I have been in touch with Sen. Feeney, Rep. Hawkins, Rep. Scanlon, and Congressman Auchincloss about this because right now, the way the process is, it takes a year for one of these migrants to get working papers. They want to work. They’re hard workers. They’re very skilled workers. Some are not, but the majority are. They truly want to work. Do you think they just want to hang around, you know, these hotel rooms or the places they are?
I do know that some will find work. I believe that we need to take care of these people, but I don’t think that the way it was done to leave them here without any information was proper.
What events will the Chamber hold here, and what connections will you make now that you’re in a new place?
Well, the connections are going to stay the same. We’ve connected people in North Attleborough for a long time. You have two downtown organizations that, unfortunately, sometimes fight amongst themselves. That’s not good for anybody.
We have yet to step on their toes regarding the events they handle. You know, the chocolate stroll at the block party that happened a week or so ago, which is fantastic.
As far as connections, we will continue to hold our educational seminars, workshops, and networking events, as we have been for a long, long time.