Move over, Amazon. Hang on, Wayfair. This year, the most successful industry in a state tax credit program meant to incentivize job growth certainly wasn’t high-tech, at least not in the traditional sense.
The big winner turned out to be an industry as old as the Commonwealth: the seafood sector.
With many office expansions sidelined because of the work-from-home trend in 2020, nearly all of the beneficiaries of the state’s Economic Development Incentive Program tax credits were decidedly blue-collar in nature this year. In particular, five of the 10 companies that won such tax credits in 2020 are in the seafood business.
The Economic Assistance Coordinating Council approved tax incentives for four of them on Thursday in its latest quarterly meeting. An affiliate of Raw Seafoods will get $203,000 in state tax credits, in return for building out its cold storage capacity in the SouthCoast Technology Park in Fall River and creating 35 jobs. The state will give $112,500 in tax credits each to Nantucket Sound Seafood and to Atlantic Red Crab Co.; Nantucket Sound is creating 15 new jobs and putting up a new two-level building in Fall River, while Atlantic Red Crab is increasing its capacity in New Bedford and adding 28 jobs. Eastern Fisheries, meanwhile, will get $375,000 from the state in return for consolidating its operations in a larger New Bedford facility and creating 50 jobs. All four are getting local tax breaks as well.
It was a predictably slow year for economic development: The state doled out about $2.8 million in these tax credits in 2020, considerably less than a typical year. In 2019, the state awarded $6.2 million.
The largest prize in 2020 went to Monogram Gourmet Foods, which is building a distribution facility in Haverhill and creating more than 350 new jobs. It won $925,000 in state tax credits.
Fishing remains a big success story for New Bedford’s port, steadily ranked number one out of all US ports in terms of the value of its fish landings. That ranking has largely been driven by the scallop trade, though city officials say the catch has become more diversified in recent years. Nearly 7,000 people work directly for maritime businesses on its harbor, in New Bedford or Fairhaven, the vast majority connected to fishing in some way.
“It’s really a trend that we’ve seen in New Bedford for a number of years, the expanding of seafood processing,” said Derek Santos, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council. “The assets are here that allow for that type of advanced manufacturing and value-added processing.”
Santos noted that processors initially put expansion plans on hold after the pandemic started, in part because of the impact COVID-19 had on clients in the restaurant business. But that delay didn’t last long.
Ed Anthes-Washburn, New Bedford’s port director, said he expects the total value of New Bedford’s landings to drop in 2020 because of the pandemic. But the number of inquiries from seafood companies in other states about establishing a beachhead in New Bedford continues to grow.
“We’ve seen a big increase in vessels from New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina,” he said. “There’s a desire from some of those companies to have a more permanent home here.”