To most people, the term Economic development means bringing in new businesses. However, it is actually something that has many moving pieces. This fifth Issues Platform offers my thoughts on meaningful – and achievable – policy initiatives that will a.) grow our tax base, b.) make Bristol more business friendly, and c.) help connect people with jobs. Thanks to my work experience with trade associations and business advocacy groups, I know that it is critical to create public-private partnerships that promote business growth and coordinate that with marketing, so businesses will find Bristol to be an attractive place to locate or expand.
In Bristol, there is no logic to our current economic development efforts. One of my first actions will be to merge the Mayor’s isolated economic development committee into the Bristol Development authority so that there is a streamlined process that makes better use of the members of the BDA, and increased transparency. While, as the Mayor, I will continue to propose economic development grants, the BDA will have to ratify all such spending in order to promote transparency and accountability, while avoiding the perception of favoritism or backroom deals.
The BDA will be given addition responsibilities to network with existing Bristol businesses to assist them when needed and to listen to their suggestions. The businesses usually know better than the politicians what works and what doesn’t. The current Mayor seems to be narrowly focused only on bringing in new businesses; while at the same time several businesses have left Bristol and other storefronts have been vacant for extended periods of time. The successful economic development strategy is to both recruit and retain businesses at the same time. I will consult regularly with and seek advice from the Chamber of Commerce and local business officials to gain their recommendations.
The Planning Commission and the Zoning Commission and the other land use boards are a vital part of Bristol economic development. The city’s Plan of Conservation and Development is nothing but a worthless exercise if the land use boards don’t actively push the objectives it establishes.
Businesses desire “one stop shopping” when reviewing proposals and incentives. The Mayor’s office needs to be the captain of these efforts to ensure all city employees are rowing in the same direction and understand the message that “Bristol is open for business.” One change I will suggest is that the land use boards meet twice a month regularly, or routinely schedule special meeting to help move projects along. Time is money for developers, and the city should be a pro-active piece of that project development.
Everyone loves the “one stop shopping” idea but in reality no two projects are the same. It will be critical that there is someone at the top of the pyramid with enough knowledge of development and the local regulations to know what steps need to be taken, in what order those steps are most efficient. In addition, current city staff need to develop the skill sets to perform this task. Continuous job training is a key element for customer service and ensuring projects are expedited and reviewed appropriately.
Good paying jobs are another indicator of a healthy community. The City should give preference to hiring local residents, whether for entry level positions or Department Head positions. This stabilizes the middle class, encourages home ownership, and local spending.
The City should have a minority and women-owned business preference policy, and create a mentoring and training program to help grow the many thriving small businesses owned by women and minorities in the community.
In terms of recruiting them to Bristol, we need to get bold and aggressively market our business centers to targeted manufacturers who are big, high tech, and looking to grow.
The number one reason manufacturing companies are going to pack up and leave Connecticut is because they can’t find the right talent for these highly technical, highly skilled jobs. The number two reason is that 75% of applicants can’t pass a pre-employment drug test. This is a big problem in safety sensitive jobs and is yet another indicator of how the opioid crisis is affecting Bristol.
There needs to be more educational synergy. Adult education works very closely with local manufacturers to train potential employees and create jobs. There has to be other avenues in the trades through the tech school that could be as effective in building the workforce. This may include:
-An emphasis on Computer Aided Design (CAD) classes and computer coding classes.
-More emphasis on trades and manufacturing jobs in addition to the college bound track.
– Robotics and STEM programs for interested students at the middle school level.
–Lastly, we need to start attaching bodies to dollars in our economic development grants. If the city gives a company grant money for anything, from a facade improvement to a capital purchase to an expansion, that company should be compelled to hire a certain number of employees from the local community. Y number of Bristol people. The city should help the businesses which receive grant awards to promote job openings at such company in every single outlet we have at our disposal. If we do this in addition to making some changes in our school curriculum, that is how we will get Bristol people into these high-paying, high-quality industry jobs, which will in turn stabilize our middle class.
I promise the citizens of Bristol that I will always be involved with the Bristol business community. I won’t be caught off guard like the situation that just happened. Being Mayor is a job that involves hard work and attention to detail. It doesn’t just mean ribbon cuttings and ceremonial events. It is a job, not a performance.