An Argument for Planning
There is much skepticism these days on the part of citizens for what seems an over abundance of planning on the part of government agencies at municipal, state and federal levels.
Ever since Ronald Regan declared, ‘Government isn’t the solution to our problem, government IS the problem’ it is the gut reaction of many of our neighbors to disparage public funds expensed for planning or studies of current challenges we face.
The truth of the matter, like nearly all matters of political or historic significance is far more nuanced than any single sound byte can represent.
While there are countless examples of redundant process without tangible action, ‘let’s study the study than do another study’ that are likely a waste of time and funding, there is not a single community in the United States of any size that has not benefited from a carefully crafted municipal strategic plan, one that capitalizes on the strengths of its citizens by engaging them in the process of planning then execution.
I want you to consider the ‘plan’ for Gardner as it’s been touted since 2011.
What Gardner Has Today Labeled an Urban Renewal Plan, coupling the Mill St. Urban Renewal Corridor to the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan are a pair of documents which, standing on their own, are not completely unacceptable documents. They don’t lie and they don’t necessarily say anything inaccurate or impossible.
The issue our city has faced for decades, including the decade since these documents were first published, is that the documents before you lack multiple important factors.
They are not predicated on a bottom-up approach to economic growth.
They do not focus on high demand/low supply businesses, or really any specific ideas on growing or attracting businesses.
They are simply a rather bland, generic blueprint for economic development, not nearly as aggressive, detailed and specific to our needs as they should be for a city as underdeveloped as Gardner.
They lack any vision, particularly a vision crafted with the maximum feedback from the average city resident or business leader.
Even with a competent plan, Gardner has wanted on the municipal level for talent that can competently execute a plan that includes progressive and aggressive business development, a vision for increasing property values or a sense for how economic ecosystems work.
An Alternative Gardner
Improving our prospects as a community will require a shift in the overall approach that’s gotten us here. It will therefore additionally require substantive changes in the process by which we govern and propel the desires of all citizens.
A complete change in Community Development and Planning personnel coupled with a new mandate and set of processes for the department.
Developing resources to support home-grown business. (Bottom-up approach)
Focus on business development in high demand, low supply business. Commodities and products made cheaper overseas need not apply.
Intentionally seek diversity in businesses. A single industry town is a fragile town.
Cease attracting low-pay/low-skill corporate big box business. Cease offering tax breaks to corporate business to lure them to town. STOP BUILDING INSOLVENCY INTO OUR MUNICIPAL TAX PLAN.
Focus on building municipal tax base through home-grown, profitable businesses of various sizes and industries.
Tie business development closely to property development in key areas such as Rear Main St., Mill St. Corridor and other parts of downtown.
None of the concepts or action items I list in this article are novel. I propose these changes based on my lifelong experience and my passion for economic development, a passion expressed through the work of my consultancy. A passion cultivated through the experience I earned as a small business owner these last twenty plus years.
Remember: with a stronger Commercial Tax Base we can release tax pressure on ALL of our residents.