Jennifer Downing Named First Executive Director of the New Bedford Ocean Cluster
The NBOC’s mission is to leverage New Bedford’s coastal position, marine knowledge base, and landside capacity to drive employment and wealth creation for New Bedford residents. Working collaboratively with a range of private sector, public sector, and academic partners, the NBOC will work to establish New Bedford as the leading ocean economy on the East Coast through a strategic focus on four interrelated industry pillars: commercial fishing & processing, aquaculture, offshore renewable energy, and innovation & technology.
“The entire NBOC Board is excited to have Jen lead our team,” John Bullard, President of the NBOC Board of Directors said recently announcing her appointment. “Because of her experience, her leadership skills and her passion for New Bedford she is already off to a very fast start mobilizing resources and gathering people together to seize the opportunity to create jobs around the possibilities that are before us in the blue economy. To be successful we need to bring a lot of people together, discover common objectives, work out our differences and move forward with a goal of increasing economic opportunities for all. Jen has the ability to help us do that.”
In her position, Downing will be responsible for setting up the operational needs of the NBOC, working with local maritime stakeholders to define and advance economic development priorities, and managing cluster activity. A primary focus of the NBOC will be to foster a maritime business network that can serve as both a convener and clearinghouse for business-to-business interaction and commercial collaboration. The goal is to attract investment to New Bedford and its Port, support the formation and growth of ocean economy businesses, and develop strategies to create more value from our ocean resources including fish, aquaculture, and wind.
“Jen is the ideal person to lead the New Bedford Ocean Cluster as it seeks to capitalize on the maritime opportunities that lie ahead for New Bedford. Her track record of facilitating teamwork, coupled with her understanding of New Bedford’s competitive advantages, will put the Ocean Cluster in a strong position to succeed,” Mayor Jon Mitchell, said.
In late 2021, the NBOC launched the Act Local program in partnership with Vineyard Wind and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to connect Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier 1 companies with local businesses interested and able to participate in the offshore wind industry supply chain. The Act Local Program is an innovative and streamlined approach to matchmaking and is the first of its kind in the U.S. offshore wind industry. The program is part of Vineyard Wind’s commitment to Look Local First in support of its Vineyard Wind 1 offshore wind farm.
“The NBOC is going to play a critical role in making sure that local businesses become part of the fabric of the growing offshore wind industry,” said Vineyard Wind’s Manager of Workforce & Supply Chain Development, Jennifer Cullen. “With her impressive experience, Jennifer is ideally positioned to lead the organization and ensure that it succeeds in its mission.”
Most recently, Downing served as the vice president of community engagement at the Buzzards Bay Coalition where she oversaw the organization’s fundraising, marketing & communications, and public engagement programs and events. Prior to that, she served as the executive director of Leadership Southcoast (LSC). At LSC, Downing introduced new curriculum and formats that strengthened the program, expanded, and diversified enrollment, and launched the organization’s first alumni engagement strategy.
Downing spent more than a decade in philanthropy working at the Garfield Foundation, a private foundation that awarded more than $2 million nationally to nonprofits addressing complex social and environmental problems through collaborative network approaches. She was responsible for both managing the operations of the foundation and serving as program officer for a place-based grant portfolio supporting economic and community revitalization projects in Greater New Bedford.
That experience sparked Downing’s interest in advancing collaborative leadership and cross-sector collaborative processes and prompted her to focus her graduate studies on the subject. In 2018, she received the Brian Webb Award for Outstanding Master of Arts Thesis by Union Institute & University for her paper, Action Learning to Develop Collaborative Capacity for Social Change.
“I’m really excited about joining the New Bedford Ocean Cluster,” Downing said. “A consistent thread running through my career has been a deep interest in advancing collaborative, network approaches locally to strengthen and revitalize our community. The ocean cluster ideology embodies this approach, and it is an honor to have the opportunity to leverage my background and skills to develop and lead such a model in New Bedford to advance its ocean economy.”
In 2020, Downing was honored as a recipient of the John S. Brayton Community Service Award by the One South Coast Chamber of Commerce. She is currently the Chair of the Acushnet School Committee and has served on numerous nonprofit boards and committees, such as the United Way of Greater New Bedford Board of Directors, the New Bedford Regeneration Committee, the SouthCoast Neighbors United Board of Directors, the Civic & Political Leadership Working Group for the Women’s Fund’s Task Force on Pathways for Women to a Living Wage, and the YWCA of Southeastern Massachusetts’ Building Diverse Boards and Commissions Working Group.
She holds a BFA from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City and an MA in Leadership, Public Policy and Social Issues from Union Institute & University. She is a proud 2009 graduate of Leadership SouthCoast and 2012 PLACES (Professionals Learning About Community, Equity & Sustainability) Fellow with The Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities.