Community Spotlight – Essex, Massachusetts 

May 9, 2023 12:00 pm

The North Shore Alliance for Economic Development serves 30 communities, including four Gateway Cities, and brings their leaders together to explore and take action on economic development issues that can help grow the region, including those that advance the Commonwealth as a whole.

Over the course of the next few months, we will explore and get to know these 30 communities that make up the North Shore region of Massachusetts. We hope our readers will learn more about the unique benefits each community brings to their residents and visitors and how collectively they strengthen our regional economy.

Essex, Massachusetts 

Essex, Massachusetts sits approximately 26 miles north of Boston on the marshes along the Essex River adjacent to the Atlantic Coast. The Town is known historically for its shipbuilding and seafaring. Incorporated in 1819 by Europeans, community members of Essex (once Ipswich) supported themselves through farming, fishing, clamming, lumbering, and most importantly, shipbuilding.

The suburban town has a population of 3,675 residents according to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau report and measures 15.9 square miles along the Essex River. 

Economic Strengths & Projects in Essex 

A hidden gem of shopping, antiquing, nature, and museums, Essex is a great destination to visit, stay, and play.  Over the past year a few specialty retail/home décor and interior design shops have opened, as well as a café. A bakery and a dispensary will be opening soon as well.

In terms of Economic strengths and development, The Town of Essex secured grant funding for several economic recovery projects that were identified through our participation in the State’s 2020-2021 Local Rapid Recovery Planning program, which was established to help communities counter the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A Placemaking Plan is currently underway to strategize on improvements to the downtown streetscape and public spaces to make it more inviting and useable for visitors and residents alike (funded through DHCD Mass Downtown Initiative), and the town plans to install pedestrian lighting in the downtown to improve the pedestrian safety and aesthetic of the downtown (funded through MassDOT’s Shared Streets and Spaces program.) 

The Town is also working on rebuilding an open-air pavilion on the shores of Chebacco Lake that will be available for event rentals. This project is being funded through a Town appropriation of funds and the generous contribution of time and resources by local volunteers.

The Strategic Planning Committee recently published a Town of Essex Strategic Plan with ten main goals to build on Essex’s strengths and address the challenges it faces now and in the future. These include: 

  • Update and Finance Critical Town Infrastructure
  • Maintain the Town’s Call Fire Department and Improve the Town’s Emergency Response to Vulnerable Populations
  • Maintain and Further Develop a Strong Business Community
  • Ensure the Continued Protection and Management of Conservation Land, Open Space, and Historic Places in Essex
  • Expand the Range of Recreational Opportunities and Assets
  • Promote Fiscally-Responsible Government
  • Meet the Housing Needs of all Essex Residents Through Community Housing Initiatives
  • Build Coastal Resilience
  • Maintain the Excellence of our Schools
  • Review and Update Essex’s Current Single District Zoning Bylaw 

The ultimate goal of this detailed strategic plan is to help support and improve the town. The full report can be found online and on the Town’s website

Economic Forecast 

Essex has a positive economic forecast for the coming years. According to Best Places online economic forecasting, “Essex has seen the job market increase by 4.0% over the last year. Future job growth over the next ten years is predicted to be 38.7%, which is higher than the US average of 33.5%.”

There are opportunities and a strong local desire to attract service-related businesses such as a pharmacy, grocery stores, dry cleaners, doctor’s offices, etc. According to the 2020 Town of Essex Economic Development Plan prepared by MAPC, there is a retail opportunity gap in a variety of industries, with the largest being food and beverage stores and miscellaneous store retailers (particularly specialty food stores and grocery stores); clothing & clothing accessories; and building material/gardening stores. 

The town is already strong in restaurants, antiques, home goods, and furniture stores and likely can’t support many additional establishments in these categories. 

Essex Shipbuilding

Points of Interest and Events 

Whether you are looking for a place to dine, shop, play, or stay, Essex has many options for residents and visitors alike. The Town of Essex offers several events throughout the year for residents and visitors alike. These include the Essex Clam Fest in October, and a new event “Spring into Essex for Essex in Bloom” to draw customers to Essex businesses May 19-21 (funded through an EOHED Urban Agenda grant).


Shopping along the main streets of Essex is a must, especially if you love antiques and gifts. There are many wonderful shops where you could spend an afternoon or two admiring all the beautiful pieces. 

Arts & Culture

From a walking tour of Essex to watching a sculptor at work, Essex has many opportunities to experience art and culture. 

If you love all mediums of art including clay, woodworking, sculpting, and painting, there are many galleries and studios to visit along the streets of Essex. For insights into the area’s history, visit the Essex Historical Society & Shipbuilding Museum and Historic New England’s Cogswell’s Grant. 

Outdoor Fun 

Since Essex is located on the water, many visitors and residents enjoy activities such as Stand Up Paddleboarding, river cruises, or kayaking on the Essex River. Essex also has many fishing charters, water excursions, and golf to enjoy during the summer. There are a variety of walking trails and open spaces to be enjoyed year-round, where visitors can experience the woods, fields, and marshes of Essex 

Dining & Staying 

Essex is known for its seafood and for restaurants where customers are encouraged to relax and enjoy a leisurely meal. With 10 fantastic full-service restaurants and several great places to stop for a quick bite, there is always something new to try in Essex.  

Annual Clam Festival

In October, Essex hosts the annual Clam Festival. This year will be the 39th Annual Essex Clam Fest and Arts & Crafts Festival where visitors can try chowders from all over and vote for their favorite. The festival is held at Shepard Memorial Park in Essex and offers a great variety of activities, including arts and crafts vendors, live entertainment, and plenty of food vendors on-site! 

Economic Resources

As with many other neighboring towns, Essex has an Economic Development Committee geared to help support local businesses and move the economy forward. In addition to that committee, Essex is also part of the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce. The Essex Division sponsors the popular annual Essex ClamFest and networking opportunities throughout the year.” (Source GCACC

The Economic Development Committee is currently working on creating a “Doing Business in Essex” guide on the Town of Essex website, which will be available through their page on the Town of Essex website. That resource will be live in Fall 2023.

Major Strengths of the Community 

Essex is a small and friendly community on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Its history and people as well as their commitment to the businesses of the town make it a great place to live, visit, or work. 

Why Choose to Live or Do Business in Essex? 

This beautiful little town offers lots to see and do. From shopping to enjoying Essex’s natural beauty to dining in one of the many downtown restaurants, Essex offers so much for families and businesses. Supportive business communities and a regional Chamber of Commerce make it a welcoming place for existing businesses and those who are new to the town. 

Public Transportation & Navigating Essex, Massachusetts 

Essex is located off Route 133 in Massachusetts. Four of Essex’s neighboring communities have commuter rail stations: Ipswich, Hamilton, Gloucester, and Manchester-by-the-Sea. The Ipswich Essex Explorer bus provides weekend service during the summer connecting with the MBTA Commuter Rail at Ipswich along the Newburyport/Rockport Line.

Contact Essex, Massachusetts 

Brendhan Zubricki, Town Administrator

Essex Town Hall

30 Martin Street

Essex, MA

(978) 768-6531

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