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Tech Firm Eyes Expansion in Beverly

Posted on Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Northshore

Harmonic Drive LLC, which has manufactured gears for projects that are literally out of this world, is eyeing a big move to Beverly in what would be a homecoming of sorts for the company. Harmonic Drive has been based in Peabody for a number of years, but the company got its start more than 60 years ago as a division of United Shoe in Beverly — the site of what is now the Cummings Center. The gear systems the company makes are used in a variety of products. “Primarily it’s (for) the medical industry,” company President and CEO Doug Olson told Beverly officials last week. That includes diagnostic and therapeutic equipment for robots used in surgery. But Harmonic Drive gears have also launched into space. “Virtually every satellite launched has our equipment on it,” Olson said. “We’ve driven on Mars, we’ve driven on the moon.” Other uses are for humanoid robots and large telescopes and prosthetics. Harmonic Drive, which is headquartered on the corner of Lynnfield Street at the edge of the Centennial Business Park in Peabody, is seeking tax-increment financing now from Beverly officials and the state to help reduce the financial burden of the move. Company officials, including Olson, received unanimous support for the TIF from Beverly’s Economic and Community Development Council on Thursday. The City Council must also give its stamp of approval; the state is scheduled to consider the matter in December. If all goes according to plan, Harmonic Drive will move to an empty parcel at 42 Dunham Road that would allow the company to expand, making more product and nearly doubling its workforce — growth that City Planner Aaron Clausen called “jaw dropping.” The company has tentatively set the move for late 2019. C. Walton Musser brought Harmonic Drive into being in 1955 when he approached what was then the United Shoe Machinery Corp. The company started as a division of USM in 1960. It expanded enough to break off as its own entity, moving to Wakefield and then Peabody. Internationally, another arm of the company took hold in Japan in 1970. Today, Harmonic Drive still has its manufacturing headquarters in Peabody, but also has sales offices in upstate New York; San Jose, California; and Chicago. “Demand for our products is growing here,” Olson said. The company plans to increase its production line from 100,000 products per month to 400,000 by 2020. In Massachusetts, Harmonic Drive put out 3,000 a month this past quarter, but plans on this increasing to 21,000 by 2020. The company has 112 employees in Massachusetts and wants to add at least another 90 by 2020, Olson said. All together, Harmonic Drive would invest nearly $19 million into buying the land and building a new complex in Beverly. While Olson acknowledged that building in southern New Hampshire would be much cheaper, he said the company wants to retain its current employees. “There’s a real commitment to our employees,” he said. The tax break would make the move more feasible, Olson said. Clausen said that for the city, the use of the empty land there — behind the The Salem News offices and the Dunham Castle condos — “complements” the area. “This is a good fit,” he said. Beverly Mayor Mike Cahill spoke positively of the business.“They’ve looked around, both within Peabody, where they are now, and outside,” he said. “This is an opportunity to keep them on the North Shore.”

 By Arianna MacNeill salem news

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