Tredyffrin Township Needs an Economic ‘Call for Action’ From its Elected Officials

Nearly 6 months ago on February 2, 2011, I wrote a post called, Another Store Closing in Tredyffrin . . . A Suggestion for a Business Task Force’.  The post detailed another store closing its doors; at the time, it was Tuesday Morning.  This post was written immediately following the supervisor interviews for the appointment of an interim supervisor (to fill vacated Warren Kampf’s seat).  One of the reasons I wrote the post was that I was struck by the fact that in the interview process, all the supervisor candidates listed economic development as one of the most important issues facing the township. Here is an excerpt from the February 3, 2011 post on Community Matters:

In light of the many empty storefronts in the township, the supervisors listed attracting new businesses at the top of the challenge list. I agree that encouraging new business growth is essential but equally important, is how can we support the businesses that we have?

I wonder if a township business task force would help . . . a volunteer group of local retired executives, small business owners, and corporate representatives. The group would meet monthly with a mission to spearhead ways to improve existing relationships and provide assistance and a resource for township businesses. This important support group for the business community could provide regular updates and suggestions to the Board of Supervisors. Just an idea . . .

Subsequent to this post, I had further discussions with several of the township supervisors on the creation of a task force to help our small businesses and to encourage new corporate business development in the township.  At the April 4, 2011 Board of Supervisors meeting, supervisor Phil Donahue made a motion for an ‘Economic Development Committee’, which would include himself and supervisors Michelle Kichline and Mike Heaberg.  The motion was seconded by supervisor Paul Olson and passed unanimously.  Here are the relevant township minutes from the supervisors meeting which detailed the committee:

Mr. Donahue made a motion to form an Economic Development Committee, to pull together information, gather facts, and begin a dialog putting our best foot forward and creating the right environment for Tredyffrin. Mr. Olson seconded the motion.

Ms. Kichline said she, Mr. Donahue and Mr. Heaberg would recruit members of the business community and surrounding regions to serve on the committee, which would advise the entire Board on the role and scope for where we want to go with large and small businesses. Mr. Heaberg said we are looking for creative strategic thinkers in the community.

Resident Carlotta Johnston-Pugh said she didn’t see a lot of diversity in the community and thought this would bring more companies to the Township as well as residents. Mr. Donahue said the first step will be having an opportunity to discuss ideas like that with residents.  At the end of discussion, motion passed.

It has been 4 months since the supervisors  passed the motion to create the Economic Development Committee.  I attend all the supervisors meetings and in checking meeting minutes, I could find no  further reference to this committee. Understanding that there may be ‘behind the scenes’ movement on the Economic Development Committee my supervisors, I would still ask what is the status of the committee?  Besides supervisors Donohue, Kichline and Heaberg, who are the members of the committee?  How often do they meet and what is their mission?

In my early discussions with supervisors, I had suggested that the committee needed to include a balance of small business owners, corporate representatives and interested members of the community.  As a small business owner and former member of the Paoli Business & Professional Association Board of Directors, like many other residents, I have a stake in the development and encouragement of our business community.  As is the case in many parts of this country, we have seen little improvement in our economic climate and our community needs a grassroots effort to help our businesses succeed and to encourage new growth and development. 

I was prompted to write today’s post by an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, www.bizjournals.com . Newtown Borough in Bucks County is looking at various ways to help their struggling businesses and will hold a roundtable discussion to brainstorm ideas.  Council members in Newtown are optimistic that the roundtable will open up communication between the residents, business owners and elected officials.  I was optimistic that Tredyffrin’s Economic Development Committee would provide a similar type of forum for our community that would include residents, corporate representatives and small business owners in the discussion.

It is so disheartening to hear of more and more businesses failing – leaving empty office buildings and storefronts in the wake.  In addition to an update on the Economic Development Committee, I would also like a status report on the Paoli Transportation Center.  A few weeks ago, I wrote of the train station and was given the impression from our State Rep Warren Kampf, Willistown, and Tredyffrin township supervisors that the transportation center remains a priority.  If the project is a priority, I believe that the community should expect an update.

Economic development in Tredyffrin Township needs to be more than political campaign promises . . . the decline of our business community is a serious issue and we need help to stabilize and save our community.  Should we hold our elected officials accountable?  Or, . . . do you think that the severity of the economic situation is beyond the scope of township supervisors?  Can local officials make a difference with our local economic climate?  My answer to the last question — is that they need to try. 

With last week’s unexpected closing of Jake’s Frozen Custard in Paoli after only 10 months, I was again reminded of the fragileness of our economic environment.  Our elected officials – local and state – need to help save our existing small businesses and encourage development and growth of new business in the township.  These are not passing problems that somehow time will magically erase.  Previously, I volunteered to serve on the Economic Development Committee and I am confident I could get many more to help – we just need direction.

The next Board of Supervisors meeting is on Monday, August 15.  I am sending a copy of this post to our township supervisors and State Representative requesting that the community receive an update on the Paoli Transportation Center project and on the township’s Economic Development Committee. I am asking for an economic ‘call for action’ from our elected officials.

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  1. I suppose an Economic Development Committee can’t hurt, but I am not convinced that it will do much to attract / retain business in the area.

    Many of the store closings involve big chain stores that are going bankrupt on a nationwide basis (i.e. Blockbuster, Oskar Huber, Linen & Things, etc.). Because the entire chain is going belly up, there is nothing that local pols can do to reverse this trend.

    The other problem is that the economic downturn is not limited to just our area. Drive along the Main Line from Bryn Mawr to Exton and you will see countless store windows that have been shuttered. As I noted in a post yesterday, Radnor Township is facing the closing of the St. Davids Post Office and the Reader’s Forum Bookstore. I also believe that an ice cream store at the corner of Main St. and Route 30 also closed.

    Even places designed to attract a large number of potential customers aren’t safe. Walk through the King of Prussia Mall (also outside of Tredyffrin), and you will see many closed stores.

    These closings throughout the region indicate that the economic problems in Tredyffrin are not due to any act or omission on the part of our local pols. Rather, they are part of a larger problem that is far beyond their control.

    Adding to the problem is the continued construction of retail space in the area. Good for construction workers, but does it make sense from a business stand point? After all, with all the closed up stores, is there any need for the new retail space being built on that old golf course which is located across the street from the KoP Wallmart?

    As for Jakes Custard in Paoli, I suspect the reason they are closing has to do with over saturation over the frozen treat market. After all, Paoli has a Rita’s Water Ice and a Whirled Peace Frozen Yogurt & Smoothies just down the street. Travel 2 miles further and you arrive at Handel’s Ice Cream. This begs the question: How many ice cream parlors can a community support?

    The only solution to the oversaturation problem would be for local pols to place limits on the number and types of business that can be located in a certain geographic area. I don’t think anyone apart from the most diehard Socialist, would call for such Command Economy protectionist measures.

    Apart from government dictating what private business can and cannot do, what realistic solutions are there that are within the power of local pols to implement?

    In response to this question, the Paoli crowd will Invariably pipe in with talk about the need for more parking, but the existence of ample parking did nothing to save Doggie Style next to the Acme, nor was it of any help to all of the businesses that have closed in the retail strip located along Route 252 between the Pathmark and the Barnes & Noble Bookstore.

    Ample parking and a seemingly captive Chesterbrook audience of about 3,000 did not save any of the many, many stores and restaurants that have closed in the strip mall where the Genuardis was located next to Wilson Park Farm.

    Pattye: On a final note – Have you contacted State Senator Andy Dinnamin’s office about this issue? Senator Dinnamin sits on the Senate’s Economic and Recreational Development Committee, so if anyone has some good ideas about fostering local economic development, it should be him.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Suggestions that could be within the scope of supervisors might include — streamlining the approval in zoning or planning processes; increasing availability of permit forms, etc. on township website; implementing database of available commercial real estate; organizing monthly roundtable business community discussion; maybe easing zoning restrictions to encourage alternative usages; more user-friendly and informational township website. And yes, I understand with cutbacks in township staff some of these suggestions may not be possible.

    You are correct that economic decline is not only Tredyffrin, it is everywhere. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if Tredyffrin Twp took the initiative (as they did with the approval of the Economic Development Committee) and set the bar for other municipalities. It takes vision for the future of ‘what could be’ — You say it can’t hurt — I say why not try?

    [Reply]

  2. If a Business Task Force is formed, one of the most effective initial actions that they could take would be to survey businesses about local economic businesses. A survey could tell us:

    (1) whether there are local government practices, policies or regulations that are repeatedly being identified in the survey responses as impeding business.

    (2) if there are any economic impediments that are specific to a local area (e.g. lack of parking in Paoli).

    (3) if newly opened businesses experienced any unduly burdensome permit or application requirements that delayed their opening. (This information could help tell us what the Township can streamline to encourage newcomers to open their stores and restaurants here).

    Easing certain Zoning restrictions might help, but I a little leery about this suggestion. I recall Tim Burton once saying that his vision of Gotham for the Batman movie was New York City without any zoning laws. Still, if a survey were to point out a particular Zoning law that hampers local businesses then it would certainly be worth considering whether or not that law should be repealed or eliminated.

    [Reply]

  3. Why create one more board, commission, committee, etc., when there already is an economic task force in Paoli: The Paoli Business and Professional Association (PB&PA). They have the most to gain and have the most to offer by way of day in-day out experience of what it’s really like on the ground in Paoli. From the sound of your concern and enthusiasm for Paoli, Pattye, I have to wonder why you’re no longer a member. Sounds like the perfect moment for all business owners in the area to join up and get excited about making a change.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    The PBPA is support for businesses in Paoli only. The Economic Development Commission is to address issues township-wide. Although there are certainly concerns about the empty storefronts in Paoli and also the status on the Paoli Transportation center, I would hope that Tredyffrin’s EDC would review all areas in need. Chesterbrook Shopping Center and empty corporate office space in Chesterbrook continues to be of concern — Genuardi’s has been empty for over a year. All along Lancaster Ave. – Berwyn, Devon, Strafford and Wayne are empty stores and resturants.

    Paoli and Chesterbrook are the closest retail/business areas for me so I tend to see those regularly. However, my business is not in Paoli, my bed & breakfast is located in the Great Valley – Malvern. The focus of PBPA is Paoli and the direct impact to businesses located in Paoli. I may not be a PBPA board member any longer but it does not lessen my concerns or involvement. Example — coming up on October 1st is Paoli Sings the Blues, the 3rd annual Paoli Blues Fest. Marie Thibault (former PBPA president) and I are again co-chairing the community event. Last year, attendance was estimated at 15,000 and ‘fingers-crossed’ we are expecting to exceed that number this year.

    Marie and I may no longer be PBPA board members but our enthusiasm and support for Paoli, the residents and the business community remains unwavering. Hope everyone will mark their calendars and plan to attend the largest blues festival in the greater Philadelphia area, Saturday, October 1, Noon – 6. Blues bands performing all day on the main stage at Paoli Village Shoppes. Plenty of food vendors, entertainment for the kids, vintage cars, beer & wine garden, etc. Should be a another great community event!

    [Reply]

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