All was going great at the budget hearings until a series of motions by Tim Slavin. If we can’t stop this train before the budget passes, it will abolish the economic development department which will risk jobs, business training and money invested here. Business people are using terms like crazy to describe this move. Downtown Merchants used the word trepidation. I say that it is temporary insanity.
We have been the most successful that we have been in decades downtown, at the Garrison Technical Park and beating national trends. Now that things are working, let’s change. Let’s not change with forethought and structure, let’s change and form a committee to figure out how to put together the pieces we are about to break. Call now or put our economy at risk.
People are complaining but not all to the right people. The other councilmen have avoided recent business gatherings. It is as if they are trying to avoid opinions they may not agree with. According to WBOC, people are afraid to speak on camera. That is not the way government should work. The funny part is the fears are misplaced, but that is why government gets disconnected.
What has been achieved by the department? Grants, USDA money, put us on the path for a billion dollars in private investment in a city with 3 billion in property, we are adding manufacturing jobs, we are filling empty box stores, we have workforce development, we have partnerships, we have many vibrant events downtown, unemployment is falling faster than the state average, we have a new grocery store with Family Dollar’s expanded grocery store downtown, we have small business incubation, and they chair the Restoring Central Dover Economic Development committee. The office compiled a vacant property list then worked with Real Estate brokers to fill it.
There are challenges ahead. Economic trends are tough. Downtown needs a new strategy focused on serving people which is the key to the new economy. The economic development department staff understood the need to work in this direction. Our marketing efforts need to be for service oriented businesses. Downtowns are not going to be retail centers in the age of the Internet. Offices, services, entertainment, restaurants, food services, education/training and beauty and barber services will not go away as long as people are here. Parking and safety perceptions must be positive for Downtown to thrive. We do this by focusing on developing new business including minority and women run businesses. To do this, we need staff and infrastructure. Dismantling it is counter productive.
I don’t like the fact that the economic development issue is focused so much on one street downtown. It needs to look at the city as a whole as well. It needs to be inclusive and business friendly. We need a government that makes sense. We need to stop punishing people who buy vacant buildings and delay vacant building fees a year for new purchasers. We need one stop shopping in government.
I will offer amendments to mitigate this mess. Stay tuned.