Lowell Sun: Big Blue is at home in Littleton

By Rachel R. Briere, Sun Correspondent | June 18, 2010

LITTLETON — The opening of North America’s largest software-development lab in Littleton yesterday further proves that high-technology isn’t just for Route 128 and Cambridge.

The IBM Mass Lab, a campus on Route 110 off Interstate 495, powered up yesterday morning with a grand-opening celebration.

The site is a massive techie think tank near the Westford line with a team of nearly 3,400 valuable players in software design and development. The 494,000-square-foot King Street facility also brings in former employees of Cognos, Ascential Software Corp., Lotus and Rational Software, all or part of which IBM has acquired since 2003.

“Looking back, in the 1980s we had a dozen software-development laboratories around the world.

Today we have more than 70,” said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive for IBM Software.

IBM’s global communications manager, Karen Lilla, said the company has gradually moved its employees from other Massachusetts locations during the last two years. About 1,000 more job opportunities are expected to be posted in the next few months.

In 2007, IBM beat out Raytheon Co. to lease the once-vacant building, which was built in 1984 to house Digital Equipment Corp. Digital was acquired in 1998 by Compaq Computer, which in turn was bought by Hewlett-Packard a few years later. HP moved most of its Littleton employees down I-495 to Marlboro during a consolidation of its own a few years ago.

“One of our goals was to bring everyone together under one roof, face-to-face, to collaborate on projects,” Lilla said.

Gov. Deval Patrick attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, saying IBM’s growth is central to the state’s economic rebound. He said the consolidation and future expansion play a key role in his administration’s goal for economic growth in the Bay State.

“It’s a sweet spot for us economically,” Patrick said. “Massachusetts is on the mend and move — IBM is part of that.”

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and state Rep. James Arciero, D-Westford, both said the opening of IBM was a team effort between the governor, local politicians, business owners and residents. A main component to the project is making the lab easily accessible to employees who make the “reverse commute” from Greater Boston, Arciero said.

“For young and talented college graduates living in Cambridge, Arlington and Boston, to get to work at a suitable time is important,” Arciero added. “The infrastructure, including the expansion of Route 110, improvements to Route 2 and the creation of the double track on the (MBTA) Fitchburg rail line accommodate the work force.”

Eldridge said he, Arciero and others are advocating for $2 million from the state to purchase land near the MBTA stop in Ayer. He believes this is a key piece in expanding economic growth outside Boston.

“An important component is to harness the innovative, young work force,” Arciero said.

IBM is also hoping to attract a new generation of employees with a number of green initiatives. The renovated site incorporates sustainable design and construction, focusing on energy efficiency, recycling, reusing and water conservation.

Employees are encouraged to ride bicycles to work; the location has a storage garage for bicycle commuters and dressing rooms with showers to change. “Green Parking” spaces in the lot are available for employees who drive vehicles that get more than 40 miles per gallon. There is also a gym, volleyball court and soccer field for employee use.

“They’re encouraging people to get out and talk with others, which most who have worked in cubicles rarely do. Many think it’s strange,” said Operations Manager Joe Kiggen. “The goal is to get people moving.”

Mills said IBM employs 10 percent of the state’s work force. He said the Littleton lab is critical in the company’s growth within the Bay State.

“We view Massachusetts as an innovation hotbed,” Mills said. “This is very exciting day and just the beginning.”

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