When Medical Information Technology Inc. last fall announced plans to build a 120,000-square-foot office building in Freetown’s Riverfront Business Park, the software maker was hailed by politicians in Boston and on the chronically underemployed South Coast as a godsend.
Homegrown and in the high-tech sector political and business leaders across the country are clamoring for, the project appeared a certainty when it was whisked through an expedited state environmental-permitting process by Gov. Deval L. Patrick’s administration in August.
But more than a year after being proposed, the project, planned on what may be the site of an ancient Native American burial ground, is in jeopardy because of a dispute between the company, known as Meditech, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
And supporters of the project say there’s more at stake than the 800 new high-paying jobs the project would produce or the estimated $35 million in new disposable income expected to be injected into the region. If Meditech does go elsewhere, critics of the Historical Commission say the departure could chill new development projects throughout Massachusetts out of concern that searching for tribal or Colonial artifacts or remains could become a costly new part of building.
Robert Mellion, CEO of the Fall River Chamber of Commerce, said if the Meditech project, which involved no public money or incentives, ultimately does fall through, it will turn off the biotech companies the area is desperately trying to attract.
“The broader perspective is we are trying to diversify and the loss of Meditech would be a major blow to us in marketing our region as a major life-sciences super-cluster,” Mellion said. “We have chronic 10 percent unemployment because we were old-style manufacturing. We feel these are the jobs of tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, other areas in the region hungry for new construction and high-paying technology jobs wait in the wings to lure Meditech if its differences with the Historical Commission cannot be overcome.
New Bedford has offered to host a new Meditech office if the Freetown option falls through and Rhode Island’s aggressive attempts to reel in technology companies from across the border, especially to Providence’s evolving Knowledge District, continue.
Asked if they were actively pursuing Meditech, R.I. Economic Development Corporation spokeswoman Melissa Chambers said the agency could not comment on specific businesses, but offered a statement extolling the state’s virtues to companies that fit Meditech’s description.