WORCESTER — David P. Forsberg was relaxed before the Worcester Business Development Corp’s annual meeting yesterday, armed with a prepared speech tucked in his suit coat pocket.
Mr. Forsberg thought his assignment at the meeting was to present the Robert S. Bowditch Economic Development Award to Unum Group. His presentation was listed in the program after opening remarks from local and state politicians.
The WBDC’s annual meeting was called to order at 8 a.m. and in one fell swoop, the tables were turned on Mr. Forsberg. He did not need his speech.
What was not listed in the program was that it was Mr. Forsberg, past president of the WBDC, who was to receive the Bowditch award. It was a major surprise for Mr. Forsberg, and for most of the estimated 500 people on hand at the DCU Center. One of those few who were in on the surprise was Andrew H. Card Jr., who flew in from Texas to serve as the surprise presenter of the award to Mr. Forsberg. Before the presentation, the lights dimmed for a video tribute to Mr. Forsberg.
Mr. Card, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush, is dean of the George H. W. Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M.
“David Forsberg, for me, defines Worcester,” Mr. Card said during his brief remarks, before calling upon Mr. Forsberg to join him onstage for the presentation. “At every turn in his life, he has focused on what’s best for Worcester.”
Mr. Card said every challenge was seen as an opportunity for Mr. Forsberg. He said Mr. Forsberg is a man of deep faith and deep love for his family and community.
“He’s focused not just on business development,” Mr. Card said. “He’s focused on what business development does for the community.”
Mr. Forsberg, a key player in Worcester economic development circles for more than 20 years, spent 13 years as the head of the WBDC. He announced his departure earlier this month but will continue as a senior adviser to the organization. The annual Bowditch award, named after WBDC founding member Robert S. Bowditch, goes to a person who has exceeded the WBDC’s expectations for economic development efforts in the Worcester region.
Mr. Forsberg took over the WBDC in 1999, after serving as chief development officer at the Massachusetts Port Authority. During Mr. Forsberg’s stewardship, the nonprofit partnered with other organizations on several completed or ongoing initiatives in the area.
Mr. Forsberg, appearing surprised at the honor, received a standing ovation, and joked that as a Lutheran he needed to make a small confession — that he had a few tears in his eyes when he watched the video tribute.
“You absolutely surprised me,” Mr. Forsberg said. “I had no clue.”
Among those posting video tributes were former Republican Govs. William F. Weld, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift; U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester; the Rev. Paul Kennedy, pastor emeritus at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester; and Ronald Charette, executive director of the South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corp. Republican National Committee member Ron Kaufman also congratulated Mr. Forsberg on the video.
Previously, Mr. Forsberg served for five years as chief development officer for the city of Worcester. During his tenure as Worcester’s economic czar, the new St. Vincent Hospital was built downtown, the long-awaited Union Station makeover got under way, the convention center opened and the Massachusetts Turnpike connector (Route 146) became a reality.
Mr. Forsberg said he was honored to be recognized.
“I am proudest — not of the buildings we’ve built in the last 13 years,” Mr. Forsberg said. “I’m proudest of the staff we’ve built in the last 13 years.”
Mr. Forsberg singled out two former WBDC board chairmen who, he said, were representative of the talented people at WBCD, and instrumental to his success.
“Kevin Condron,” Mr. Forsberg said. “He was the first chairman I worked with. You never forget your first,” Mr. Forsberg said. Former Chairman Alexander E. Drapos, who died in 2006, was also mentioned.
J. Robert Seder, chairman of the WBDC’s board, served as the emcee at yesterday’s annual meeting. Also attending were Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray, City Manager Michael V. O’Brien, former City Managers Thomas R. Hoover and Jeffrey Mulford, Mayor Joseph M. Petty, local state senators and state representatives, and several city councilors.
Mr. Murray said for Mr. Forsberg, building a better Worcester was a moral imperative. “For David, it was more than bricks and mortar.”
Mr. Murray said economic growth was always Mr. Forsberg’s motivating factor.
Mr. Petty said when Mr. Forsberg and the WBCD said they were going to do something, it got done. “I have to say, David Forsberg is Worcester.”
Mr. O’Brien said the WBDC’s public-private partnership with the city was key to weathering the economic storm in recent years, coming out in good shape and still growing. He said Mr. Forsberg’s legacy will live on at the WBDC and with the organization’s new president, Craig L. Blais. Mr. Blais served as the WBDC’s longtime executive vice president; he took over the top job at the beginning of the month.
Mr. McGovern thanked Mr. Forsberg.
“Congratulations to your board and membership for all you have done and continued to do for the city,” Mr. McGovern said. “WBCD is the engine for much of the remarkable growth we have witnessed in the past decade or more. You have an unrivaled record of achievement.”
Mr. McGovern said Mr. Forsberg’s achievements transcended partisanship politics. “Some people tell you what you can’t do; David tells you what you can.”