$ marks the spot; Blackstone Valley maps zoning, infrastructure to lure developers.

Byline: Donna Boynton

Modern-day cartographers, using a mouse and geographic information systems instead of a compass and sextant, have been mapping already inhabited and charted territory: The Blackstone Valley.

It is not to help people navigate the 11 towns in the region, but to help businesses buy into the Blackstone Valley.

The Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, with the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce, is working with the towns to map the region's infrastructure and zoning to plan for future work and market the towns in the present.

Under way for about two years, the project has been an exercise in regional cooperation for the common good. Individually, the small towns in the valley have been hindered by size and resources. Collectively, they have been able to pool their resources and work on a regional economic development approach aimed at ultimately creating a Blackstone Valley Economic Development Council. They hope to attract the attention of state economic development officials and businesses considering expansion or relocation.

"The concept is that we want sites ready for development," a goal as important as reducing the often long permitting time for businesses, said Lawrence Adams, CMRPC executive director. "We want to see where existing infrastructure is, what its capacity is, decide what the best locations are for economic development and where towns need to invest in future improvements."

The hope is to link that information with the state's site-finding program so a prospective business can easily access the list of developable land in the Blackstone Valley, Mr. Adams said.

Such a visual database can not only help fast-track projects but also create interest in the region beyond the initial inquiry.

Not long ago, a developer called the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce looking for recommendations on where to invest $8 million to $10 million to construct a 150,000- to 200,000-square-foot building.

There was little then-acting President Joseph Deliso could recommend.

The Blackstone Valley, long hailed as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, has long been the catch-all of businesses that no other community wanted.

Limited offhand knowledge of existing zoning and infrastructure put the region at a competitive disadvantange.

"We get the economic development that nobody necessarily wants," said Mr. Deliso, during a recent project update in Grafton.

"We're very vulnerable," said Julie Woods, an...

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