Economic Diversification Roadmap: Looking to the Future in ‘America’s Hometown’ | Case Study

For the majority of Plymouth, Massachusetts’ 400-year history, the town has grown and thrived; now it has its eyes set on the next 400 years. Plymouth—’America’s Hometown’— holds great prominence in American history and the town has long capitalized on that brand to support its economy through tourism and hospitality. Plymouth is also home to the aptly named Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, which helped power the regional economy from the early 1970s until its shutdown in 2019. To pair with their tourism economy, community leaders are now leveraging Plymouth’s ‘post-nuclear’ status to build economic diversification and attract talent through technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

The Plymouth Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing quality of life through smart economic growth. Steering the ship into the future and a post-nuclear era is Executive Director, Stephen Cole. Cole defined a post-nuclear economy in Plymouth as “embracing the entrepreneurial spirit, utilizing assets we control, supporting small business, and investing in emerging technologies such as AI, quantum, and robotics. We’re never going to get something back in only one fell swoop that pays as much in taxes and wages as a nuclear power plant.”

In August of 2020, a $200,000 award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) Nuclear Closure Communities (NCC) program supported a study to help outline how the town and larger region can support an entrepreneur ecosystem, identify innovative new opportunities, and make this new future a reality. The study was completed by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute and encouraged Plymouth to double down on an asset-based approach. “Lean into your assets…look to your unique geography,” Cole offered advice to peer communities going through decommissioning.

“The building of the Pilgrim plant was pivotal in the economic development of the town 50 years ago. And its decommissioning is going to be even more important.”

Aerial shot of Plymouth Harbor and coastline.

An asset unique to Plymouth’s geography is its 37-mile underutilized coast. Leaning into this asset has led Plymouth to pursue entrepreneurship and economic innovation in the marine economy or blue economy. The community hosted its first annual conference on the blue economy in October 2022—Blue Future Conference: The Now and Next of Plymouth’s Marine Economy—and a second annual event is being planned again for October 2023. In an exciting nexus between both the marine economy and AI technology innovation, a centerpiece of this conference was the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS)—the first unmanned autonomous vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean using AI and edge computing. Honoring Plymouth’s history and culture, MAS’ retracing of the original 1620 Mayflower journey also showcased technology to advance solutions to improve ocean health and support a sustainable economy.

The region is also exploring growth in aquaculture research and development, especially with kelp. Plymouth Foundation and other stakeholders have even been in discussions with Holtec for utilizing water frontage sites on the decommissioning Pilgrim plant property for kelp and other aquaculture pursuits. “As post-nuclear and not post-industrial, we are not trying to solve problems from the last 50 years. We are generally focused on what the next 50 years look like,” said Cole.

Model image of the Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS) Text Reads: A ship without a (human) captain and crew. Taking the human factor out of the Mayflower has allowed us to completely reimagine the design. Instead of thinking about eating, sleeping, and sanitation, the Mayflower's engineers were able to purely focus on the mechanics and function of the ship.

Another core piece of the UMass Donahue study provided recommendations for three to four distinct brick-and-mortar buildings to advance an entrepreneurship ecosystem:

  • Co-Working Space (Short Term)
    • This space would provide critical office facilities to help alleviate a lack of available and affordable office space in downtown Plymouth.
    • The space will connect entrepreneurs and remote work residents with a community and culture and help to attract and retain a young, talented workforce to live, work, and play in Plymouth.
  • Food Science Center / Shared Kitchen (Intermediate Term)
    • Building off the tourism destination economy in Plymouth, the town is seeking to further build its brand as a food destination, and complete the fourth “P” linking four food towns of New England (Providence, Portsmouth, and Portland).
    • The center will offer facilities and support to existing restaurants and aspiring food service entrepreneurs and chefs, in addition to catalyzing a burgeoning food truck industry.
  • Maker Space / Proof-of-Concept Space (Long Term)
    • This facility will provide a space for innovators to prototype or add technical components to ideas while offering peer-to-peer engagement.
    • The maker space would be targeted toward marine technology, energy technology, robotics, and drones.
    • Future integration and partnerships with the local school systems could also utilize the maker space to offer a creative learning environment.
  • Convention Center
    • A new convention center facility will help attract tourism and support the local hospitality industry, while potentially combining the Food Science Center under the same roof.

“The building of the Pilgrim plant was pivotal in the economic development of the town 50 years ago. And its decommissioning is going to be even more important… We are generally focused on what the next 50 years look like”- Stephen Cole, Executive Director, Plymouth Foundation

This resource is part of the Community Economic Diversification Roadmap, a new tool created by Smart Growth America and the Nuclear Communities TA team, to support communities in planning for the challenges and opportunities that stem from hosting energy infrastructure.

Economic development