City councilors signal excitement for proposed economic development director

  • The State House dome is encased in scaffolding last Friday. The scaffolding atop the State house should be finished this coming week, wrapping up a year of preparation and setting the stage for the summer-long project to replace the gold leaf on the dome. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 5/14/2016 11:52:06 PM

Concord’s city councilors indicated an early excitement for the city manager’s proposal to hire an economic development director at a budget session Saturday, the first public hearing to dissect the 2017 spending plan.

City Manager Tom Aspell said the $135,000 proposal would cover a new hire’s salary and benefits, as well as travel and other expenses that would allow the employee to become a “point person” who proactively brings business to the city.

Aspell, who said he previously worked as an economic development director in Londonderry and Haverhill, Mass., suggested that this proposal may be a starting point on the way to a distinct department of two or three people, similar to those in other New Hampshire cities.

“I don’t want to just go and appropriate . . . $250,000 and really not be able to deliver $250,000 worth of value to you, but I think if we started off with $135,000, I can deliver you much more value than that,” the city manager said.

Councilor Byron Champlin said that this proposal was “one of the most exciting aspects of the budget” and noted that at a meeting Friday of the Economic Development Advisory Council – unbeknownst to Aspell – the figure $250,000 was floated as “probably where we should be eventually for this kind of a role.”

Councilor Allan Herschlag said the description of the director’s position made sense as a department unto itself, rather than living under the banner of community development. Aspell said someday it might be.

Councilor Brent Todd said the position was “a long time coming for the city of Concord” and it would realize “a tremendous return on investment.”

Aspell and Mayor Jim Bouley each used the phrase “point person” to describe the role that a director could play. Bouley said the city can’t act alone to spur development. Instead, it must find partners with shared interests, he said.

“I want to emphasize: This has to be a community-wide effort. . . . If we’re out there by ourselves, we will fail, miserably, in my opinion,” the mayor said.

The new hire should do a critique of how friendly the city is to businesses and bring that information to the various boards that can adapt to be more attractive, Aspell said. He said the director could identify sites that are ready for development, form relationships with real estate brokers and work to ease regulatory impediments.

Aspell said he didn’t expect someone to be hired by July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

More important than hiring one person who’s supposed to know how to do everything alone, Bouley said, is finding someone who can use resources in the community.

“We have to have a pretty healthy discussion around this table as to what exactly we’re looking for, because I personally never envisioned hiring one person who’s going to have the ability to do all these things,” he said. “We need to hire a point person, in my opinion.”

There was only one public comment relating to the proposal. Resident Roy Schweiker said the city hasn’t proven that an economic development director will be worth the cost, and the money could be better spent by hiring “specialty consultants” to work with existing staff.

The council opened separate hearings for the various city departments over the course of the four-hour meeting Saturday morning, but most passed with only one or no comments.

Aspell said the councilors will continue to delve into the budget proposal on upcoming Mondays, culminating in a final public hearing on June 6.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)

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