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IPSWICH — Amid the questions and concerns about history, Ora’s CEO took a few moments at the last planning board meeting to lay out how he saw development progressing on the site.
Also president and chairman of Ora, an ophthalmic research company, Stuart Abelson told planners the nature of work is changing.
“We have a bunch of people all over the world. 70% of them don’t want to go back to the office,” he said. Meanwhile, 70% of companies coming out of the pandemic are trying to get their employees back into the office, he added.
Painting a dispiriting picture of tired furnishings, cube farms, and “recycled air,” Abelson said of the typical office, “It’s not inspiring. It sucks the life out of you.”
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“I’m reinventing work. I’m reinventing what the office is,” he said of the new facility, dubbed Ora at Waldingfield.
Containing a mix of offices, meeting spaces, and guest rooms for visiting employees, the facility would also have barns for horses and be surrounded by protected open space.
It will not be the company’s headquarters, as previously reported.
“There’s no such thing as a headquarters anymore in a modern, forward-thinking company,” Abelson said. Ora now has operations in China, Japan, Europe, and Australia. It will soon open offices in South America, he added. “The concentration of leadership in one place is totally changing now,” he said. What is needed “is a place to go” or “destination office,” Abelson said.
Ora has around 200 employees in the Boston area, and they will need a place to go two or three days a week, he said. “It’s got to be magical. It’s got to inspire. You’ve got to want to go there. It’s got to be a destination.”
He added, “Instead of walks around the parking lot, hanging around the water cooler, and drinking crappy coffee to bond, why not go down and throw a line in the Ipswich River? Saddle up a couple of horses?”
Abelson said he has long ties to the North Shore, as he grew up in Andover and now lives in Gloucester. His company biography describes him as “a dedicated philanthropist, focusing on education, wildlife and land conservation, medical research, veteran causes, and homelessness.”
He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience from Bates College and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
He is on a number of boards and cited his seat on the board of the Chicago Zoological Society as part of his bona fides in protecting the environment on Waldingfield Road.
“Everything we do at Ora is world-class, as this project will be,” he said, adding he wants to be “a wonderful member of this community.”
Ora at Waldingfield should “look more like a horse farm than a cube farm,” Abelson said.
However, he did express frustration at the permitting process in Ipswich. He said Ora also acquired a 500-acre island on Moosehead Lake in Maine around the same time it agreed to buy 55 Waldingfield Road, but that progress has been much faster in Maine.
Acknowledging that Moosehead Lake is in an unincorporated township, Abelson asked for clear guidance on how to proceed.
Ora has signed a purchase-and-sales agreement to buy 55 Waldingfield, which is contingent on approval from the Ipswich Planning Board. The hearing, held using Zoom, resumes on September 23.