PAWTUCKET — Despite being shot down twice by the City Council, Mayor Donald Grebien is again pushing to hire a business/communications liaison as well as create a new position for an economic development professional who would be funded jointly by the city and the Pawtucket Foundation.
In a May 13 letter to the City Council, Grebien reiterated the importance of focusing on economic development to increase the city's tax base. To that end, he said there is a line item in his proposed fiscal year 2014 budget for $50,000 “to work on economic development in conjunction with the Pawtucket Foundation.” He added that this money”would contribute significant financial support to engage an economic development professional.”
Grebien called this economic development professional “an indispensable resource for sustaining economic progress,” and said “our continuing partnership with the Foundation will thus leverage quality resources that would be much more difficult for the city to attract on its own.”
Additionally, Grebien notified the council that his budget proposal also contains a line item for a business/communications liaison based in the Planning Department. He noted that he had submitted a budget with no tax increase, and wrote that “in the online era of instant communications, social media, and new techniques we cannot even foresee, we cannot get by with methods that are as outdated as the last century.”
In Grebien's proposed budget for the Planning Department, a communications liaison position is listed with an annual salary of $58,800. An original request by the administration to add this position had listed it with a salary of $53,200 to $58,880, which was rejected by the City Council. A second attempt to add this job with a lowered salary of $36,600 to $42,000 was also denied recently by the City Council by a 5 to 4 margin.
While some councilors voiced support for the communications liaison job, a majority remained opposed, saying it seemed to duplicate duties of two other positions, the economic and cultural affairs officer and the director of constituent services, both of which remain funded in Grebien's FY14 spending plan.
As to the new economic development position that will be paid for through a proposed public-private partnership between the city and the Pawtucket Foundation, Grebien provided the council with a draft of a business plan. He said the document was jointly developed by the city administration, Pawtucket Foundation staff and the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC), which has been working with the administration to look at ways of consolidating some city and school services and job functions.
The proposed plan calls for the creation of the Pawtucket Economic Development Partnership. Under this entity, the city and the Pawtucket Foundation would cooperate and jointly provide services and programs to enhance commerce in the city and develop the economy. To this end, the Pawtucket Foundation would jointly sponsor a development professional “to provide discreet services and work cooperatively with the city.”
The proposal states that this economic development professional would work under the direction of the mayor and that “existing economic development staff for the city” would work cooperatively with this person through the Pawtucket Economic Development Partnership.
It is noted that, dating back to at least fiscal year 2007, there has been zero funding in the economic development line item in the city's non-departmental budget. It was further noted that the city currently has only one employee dedicated to economic development and this person focuses primarily on cultural affairs, including the arts. It is stated that the administration “would like to create additional positions to support an improved and revitalized economic development process and plan for the city.”
The creation of the Pawtucket Economic Development Partnership would be a “public-private collaborative effort” between the city and the Pawtucket Foundation to promote commerce and economic growth. It would be a “customer-centric” organization committed to retaining existing businesses, attracting and recruiting new businesses, and serving as a facilitator of public and private investment, the plan states.
The partnership will be led by a director of economic development, housed at the Pawtucket Foundation. The director's primary responsibilities will include creating a strategic economic development plan for the city, directing economic development staff, marketing the city, recruiting potential businesses, guiding potential businesses through the process of locating in Pawtucket, and working with existing businesses to ensure they remain in Pawtucket.
Prior to formation, the Pawtucket Econimic Development Partnership would need approval from the Grebien Administration and the Pawtucket Foundation's Board of Directors.
Financing this plan and details about the costs and the salary for this economic development professional are still under discussion. It is stated in the draft that the city and Pawtucket Foundation have agreed to share the cost of operations, start-up costs and other related expenses. Other potential financing sources could include the Pawtucket Business Development Corporation, private donations, grant money, etc.
When asked about the funding, Aaron Hertzberg, executive director for the Pawtucket Foundation, said the identified funds are an important first step but additional resources will be necessary. “We are working to identify those other sources, including from the Pawtucket Foundation budget, grants and other partners. We are still working out the details with the city, but we believe we have an opportunity to significantly enhance our economic development capabilities through the partnership.”