2022 Year in Review Awards

Welcome to the event page for the Westborough EDC's Eighth Annual "Year in Review" Awards Celebration!

The "Year in Review" Awards Celebration is an annual event, hosted by the Westborough Economic Development Committee (EDC), to bring state and municipal officials together with local business leaders to honor Westborough based companies and highlight the town’s impressive economic accomplishments. In addition to presenting awards to several local businesses, the EDC is also excited to welcome Yvonne Hao, the Secretary of the Executive Office of Economic Development, to deliver the keynote address at the event. 

This year's event took place on Friday, April 28, 2023, from 8-9:30am at the Forbes Municipal Building in the Town of Westborough. The event was very well attended, and there were great opportunities for networking among attendees. You can view here an image gallery with professional photographs from the event.

This year, the EDC is recognized six businesses for their outstanding impact to the community. Most award winners were selected by the EDC, but this year the EDC asked the public for input and selected the winners for the New Downtown Business, Civic Pride, and the "Hall of Fame" awards based on a poll of the community. See below for descriptions of each award and some information on the winners:

New Development Project

Recognizes a business or developer for the most impactful new construction (or redevelopment) project in the Town of Westborough

Rakks Architectural Shelving and Support Hardware

Rakks Architectural Shelving and Support Hardware, also known as Rangine Corporation, is receiving recognition for redeveloping the former R.G. Shakour building into its new headquarters. 

Rakks outgrew its previous facilities in Needham, beginning a new journey to redevelop 254 Turnpike Road, the former R.G. Shakour building, into its new home here in Westborough. Since purchasing the property in 2021, Rakks has completely transformed the 34,500 square foot building into a state-of-the art lean manufacturing and distribution center with showroom, office, and design space all under one roof. The improvements to the site are truly unbelievable. Still family owned and operated, the business values sustainability tremendously, as evidenced by its choice to incorporate many energy saving systems into the renovated building, including a brand new solar array that provides power to most of the building. Furthermore, Rakks helped bring an iconic property back on the tax rolls. As you may know, this site had been vacant since R.G. Shakour Beauty Supply closed its doors in 2017. Rakks has breathed new life into this building, adding new jobs and property value to our local economy.

Most importantly, we are happy to see a family-owned and operated business that values sustainability join the Westborough business community.

New Development Project Video
New "Small" BusinessRecognizes a new and exciting locally owned business in our communityPLAYNOW!

PLAYNOW! is receiving recognition for transforming a 3,500 square foot storefront in Westborough Shopping Center into a welcoming, family-owned and operated toy store.

Established in 2020, PLAYNOW! is a family-owned neighborhood toy store that recently opened a new location in Westborough Shopping Center. We pleased to recognize this business not only for transforming an empty, deep storefront into a beautiful space that makes you feel like a kid again, but also for its special story in entrepreneurship and resilience. Fulfilling a lifelong dream to open a toy store, founders Ray and Noreen Vigneault, also husband and wife, opened their first PLAYNOW! store in Westfield, Massachusetts, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the lockdowns and uncertainty, they had immediate success and opened another store later that year. Afterwards, they began looking for the right place to open a third location, and after over a year long search, they chose Westborough! Having done their research and visited several times, they knew that friendly neighbors, a great location, and our community’s special emphasis on family, made Westborough Shopping Center the perfect spot for its new location.

New Downtown BusinessRecognizes a new and exciting business in our downtown areaCha Cha N Beans

This award winner was determined by public vote, and Cha Cha N Beans received significant community support. The EDC nominated this business because since opening at 25 West Main Street last year, Cha Cha N Beans has helped breathe new life in our downtown by transforming a former office space into a welcoming, cozy gathering space for our community, specifically the kids.

Founded by Westborough residents, Claire and Liana, who had been planning this concept for over four years, Cha Cha N Beans is an Asian tea house that also offers its own specialty coffee, Asian snacks, and a signature menu of authentic Taiwanese bubble teas. In addition to its welcoming atmosphere and beautiful décor, the storefront features a “community room” where the business has already hosted several cultural events, classes, and hands-on activities.

For this award, we asked the public for help selecting a recipient, and although several other nominees received hundreds of votes, Cha Cha N Beans emerged with the most public support. One community member shared that the business “finally gives [them] a reason to walk downtown.” Another shared how Cha Cha N Beans “provided a safe space for 6th grader to have their first downtown, independent ‘hangout’ with a friend.” Several applauded the business for creating a space the brings the community together, and I think one community member summarized this quite nicely: “By creating a space for the community—especially our kids—to gather, Cha Cha N Beans has transformed our downtown."

New Downtown Business Video

Recognizes a Westborough business that is pioneering the future for their industry

Ascend Elements

Ascend Elements is being recognized because for developing and commercializing a groundbreaking battery recycling technology that has spurred tremendous economic growth over a short time period and will help enable the transition to a more sustainable economy.

Groundbreaking, innovative companies like Ascend Elements are an engine for economic growth, and we’re very lucky that this business has a significant presence in our community. Ascend Elements traces its history back to 2011, when its founders, including WPI’s Yan Wang, started researching battery recycling at the local university. Originally known as Battery Resourcers, Ascend Elements was formed in 2015 to commercialize its game changing technology. The business opened its Westborough site at 133 Flanders Road in 2021, and it now serves as company headquarters.

This business is special because it’s revolutionizing the production of lithium-ion battery materials by establishing a clean and sustainable supply chain using recycled feedstock. Basically, they’ve developed a cost-effective, energy efficient process that recycles lithium-ion batteries and manufacturing scrap into materials used in batteries, including those that power electric vehicles. Ascend Elements developed a patented “Hydro-to-Cathode” direct precursor synthesis process that simplifies recycling and transforms old batteries into sustainable battery materials that rival or surpass the performance of new. While traditional methods leach metals out of spent battery materials, Ascend Elements’ trademarked process leaches out impurities, keeping the valuable metals in solution and eliminating multiple steps in the recycling flow. Enabling it to deliver engineered materials at a lower cost, Ascend Elements technology greatly improves the cost-effectiveness of battery recycling, which is the best way to encourage battery recycling as the EV market grows. In this way, the business is helping to lead us toward more sustainable stewardship of our natural resources and supply chains, enabling the free market to pursue carbon-neutral goals.

Ascend Elements has already grown tremendously over its relatively brief history. Just last year, the business raised $300 million in equity and debt financing, including $200 million in Series C equity investments, won two grants totaling $480 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, and announced plans to invest $1 billion for a new, 500,000-square-foot production facility in Kentucky. The business aims to recycle more than 150,000 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries per year by 2026. We’re excited to see so much growth from a locally incubated start-up, and we predict a large market for Ascend Elements technology going forward—the world will need it to achieve its sustainability goals.

Innovation Video
Civic Pride

Recognizes a business that has cultivated a reputation as a strong community partner and friend

Westborough Connects

This award winner was determined by public vote. The EDC nominated Westborough Connects for all the great work it has done over the past few years, especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, to provide community events and programming that bring Westborough together.

Founded in 2017, Westborough Connects is a is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that’s focused on building a more connected community. As a grassroots organization, Westborough Connects collaborates with community partners and organizations on programs and initiatives that connect people to each other, the resources they need and the community they live in. This organization exudes the spirit of the Civic Pride award in everything it does. For example, in the past year, Westborough Connects collaborated with Westborough Youth and Family Services on the “Reach Out Westborough” project, which aims to address mental health impacts left behind by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Westborough Connects plans several annual events that bring the community together—such as Kindness Week, Westborough Unplugs, and the community celebration on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

This year, we asked the public for help selecting a recipient for the Civic Pride award, and although several other nominees received a lot of support, Westborough Connects won the vote by a substantial margin—evidence of their deep impact on the community. A community member noted how the organization helped connect the Westborough Senior Center to a local business when it was seeking donations for holiday gifts to local seniors. Another celebrated Kindness Week as “one of the best weeks in the year.” Many left comments about how this organization has helped them feel welcome, included, and more connected to our community. I think, for me, what sums it up is a resident’s comment that “Westborough Connects helps people of all ages build civic pride.” For these reasons, we are very pleased to present the Civic Pride award this year to Westborough Connects!

Civic Pride Video
"Hall of Fame"

Recognizes a longstanding Westborough business (e.g., 10+ years) for the indelible mark it has left on our local economy

Uhlman's Ice Cream

The winner of this award was determined by public vote. The EDC nominated Uhlman’s Ice Cream for its longstanding presence and popularity within the community. Additionally, by attracting patrons from all over the Commonwealth, Uhlman’s Ice Cream and its success help elevate Westborough.

Uhlman’s Ice Cream, located at 232 East Main Street, has brought the community so much joy over the years. It feels great to celebrate them today! Still family owned and operated, this business opened in 1967 as a farm stand on Howard Uhlman’s farm in Westborough. Several years later, George Smith, who grew up in Westborough and was a friend of Howard’s, converted the farm stand into an ice cream stand and ran Uhlman’s Ice Cream until the late 1980s. George knew ice cream well, having previously established Smithfield Ice Cream, a popular chain of ice creams stores throughout Worcester County. After he retired, his son Richard took over, and, since 2010, Richard’s step-daughter, Kelley Marston, has run the operation. Even in its early days, Uhlman’s offered 30 flavors of hard ice cream. Today, they serve soft-serve ice cream, fat-free soft yogurt, hard yogurt, and over 70 different flavors of hard ice cream. The business continues to innovate, introducing an ice cream truck that hit the streets in 2017. Most importantly, Uhlman’s Ice Cream is revered by the community.

This year, we asked the public to help us select a recipient for the award, and their feedback spoke volumes. “EVERYONE goes to Uhlman's for ice cream, and this helps bring diverse cultures together from all over town,” one community member shared. Another echoed familiar sentiment: “When we moved here, everyone we met told us we had to go to Uhlman’s!” Longtime residents might agree that “Uhlman’s has been around my entire life, and it’s always had the best ice cream.” For me, the quote that the resonated most was, “Ice cream? Need I say more?” Long overdue, the Westborough EDC is pleased to present the “Hall of Fame” award to Uhlman’s Ice Cream.

"Hall of Fame" Video

This event would not be possible without the generous support from its sponsors: