Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Economically Developmentally Disabled

Ken O’Brien

Cassandra Acly
At Monday night’s sparsely-attended Town Council Meeting (only five councilors were present) Director of Economic Planning and Development Cassandra Acly made a presentation about plans to collaborate with the “South County Leadership Team”.

The essence of the presentation was about plans to cooperate with Quinsigamond Community College to develop training programs designed to prepare Southbridge residents to participate in the technologically advanced manufacturing environment of today. She mentioned areas such as education in operating Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) equipment.

She emphasized that she did not want to raise hopes unnecessarily, insofar as such plans were only in the discussion stage at present. 

The remarks reminded me of the famous observation by John Lennon that life is what happens while you make other plans.

A case in point is the Southbridge Technology and Environment Park.

The subject was brought to mind by an article that appeared in the February 19 issue of the Worcester Business Journal titled “MassEcon unveils 81 market-ready business sites”. The article explains that,

MassEcon, the state's private-sector economic development partner, unveiled 81 new sites that have been deemed ready to accommodate business tenants interested in locating in the Bay State.
The sites are part of the MassEcon's ReadyMass 100 initiative, designed to promoted site expansion opportunities for businesses in Massachusetts.
The properties, which include both building and land sites, are certified for immediate occupancy and development and have met key criteria relating to infrastructure, permitting, size and readiness factors, according to MassEcon. 

The article provided a link to MassEcon’s website which listed the locations that had met the organization’s criteria for readiness. The graphic and list from the website which includes Southbridge are reproduced below:

Notice anything?

There’s no mention of the Southbridge Technology and Environment Park.

Now, according to former Town Manager Christopher Clark, quoted in the Worcester Business Journal of June 10, 2012, “Part of the move to diversify the town's economy is the construction of a 40-acre industrial park. Decades in the making, the park, in the northern part of town bordering Charlton and Sturbridge, is anchored by a landfill operated by Casella Waste Systems that has been in use since 1979, and a newer $6-million recycling center.

“This year, the town completed construction of Commercial Drive through the park, which connects Barefoot Road and Pleasant Street to Worcester Street. Infrastructure such as sewer, water and electricity was recently completed and Clark said the town is ready to market the site. Officials see smaller lots as suitable for office space, self-storage facilities and retail, while larger lots would be more ideal for manufacturing warehousing and distribution facilities, large storage facilities, and office buildings….”

The article continued, “Alexandra McNitt, executive director of the Chamber of Central Mass South, noted that the town has streamlined its permitting process so that all requirements are on one checklist. It also has more than enough infrastructure.
‘The town is really trying to send the message loud and clear that they are open for business,’ McNitt said.
But while Clark sees big benefits for the town in diversifying, he mostly points to manufacturing as the target industry.
‘We do have a blue-collar skilled workforce that other places don't necessarily have,’ he said.”
Christopher Clark

Based upon these remarks made over a year and a half ago, the Southbridge Technology and Environment Park should have passed the screening process to be included in MassEcon’s list.

But it was nowhere to be found.

Now, assuming that we were told the truth in the above cited article when “Clark said the town is ready to market the site” perhaps some member of the Town Council should have asked why the Technology and Environment Park was not included on the list.

Could it be that making plans about which we shouldn’t get too excited is more important than marketing the industrial park in which we’ve already invested so much?

While we’re on the subject, perhaps we might be told about progress on the three parcels that were already sold at the park.

For those who don’t recall, the Southbridge Evening News reported on September 19, 2012:
After being on the market for months, the first parcel has been snapped up in what the town has designated to become the Southbridge Technology and Environment Park on Commercial Drive.
According to Town Manager Chris Clark, Oxford-based Mid-State Welding bought three of the nine available lots, approximately four acres in total, for $107,000. But because the state did the feasibility study there, the town is paying for that out of the proceeds, meaning Southbridge is netting $26,000 less. Income from future sales, however, will go entirely to the town….
According to Mid-State employee David Livengood, a former town councilor, Seaver is planning to build a facility of roughly 140,000 square feet, double the size of his current place in the Oxford Industrial Park. He said Seaver hopes to have the work done within a year or so, but was out visiting the parcel with a survey crew when we called Friday afternoon.

We are now well past the “year or so” contemplated for completion of this project. Would it be too much to ask for an update on the progress of this? How many jobs are anticipated to be generated? What will be the economic benefit to the town? What about the remaining six lots? And if three lots amounted to about four acres, how do we get to a 40 acre park with only six remaining lots?

It would appear to me that some of the time the Director of Economic Planning and Development has spent on making plans would be more productively spent on actually accomplishing something.

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