Report from Tredyffrin’s Business Development Advisory Committee … I was hoping for ‘New’ news!

Last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting and public hearing for the Trout Creek Overlay Ordinance was another marathon 4-hour meeting, ending at nearly midnight.  An overflow crowd along with Channel 6 ABC news crew attended the early part of the meeting, specifically for the swearing-in ceremony of the police promotions of Lt. Leon Jaskuta, Lt. Taro Landis, Sgt. Ryan Scott, Sgt. Michelle Major and Sgt. Tom Bereda.  Congratulations to these members of Tredyffrin’s police department.

The meeting featured the long-awaited presentation from the Business Development Advisory Committee.  The Board of Supervisors approved the formation of the committee in April 2011 and the committee of six volunteers has worked together for 6 months to create a list of suggestions and recommendations.

According to the township website, the mission of the Business Development Advisory Committee was to … “provide recommendations to the Township Supervisors to enhance the economic vitality of Tredyffrin Township through business retention and attraction in a manner consistent with the character of the Township.  The end result of this ad hoc council will be the development of a series of strategies along with suggested tactics, budgets, resources, and timing required to accomplish the Township’s business development goals.”

As a small business owner in the township, I wanted the committee to thoroughly review the business climate of our community, talk to small business owners, community members, real estate developers and corporate representatives.  To what degree this was this accomplished … I am unclear.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the named community liaisons to the advisory committee was Donna Shipman and she was not contacted.  Beyond a meeting early in the process with Judy Huey and her brother Rob DiSerafino, owners of Paoli Village Shoppes, what other small business owners were contacted by the committee?  As follow-up to her meeting with members of the Business Development Advisory Committee, Judy provided the group with a list of township contacts with phone numbers and email addresses.  I don’t know how many (or if any) on the list were contacted.  I know at least 3 people (including myself) who were not.

Beyond their financial and corporate backgrounds, another reason that the six volunteers were seemingly chosen for this advisory committee was that these individuals were not already involved in the township – they did not sit on commissions or boards in the township. And as I have stated, it was disappointing that no one chosen was a small business owner.  My guess is that by choosing these volunteers they would bring fresh, new ideas and recommendations for improving the economic business climate of the township.

Stanford Nishikawa presented the report from the Business Development Advisory Committee.  Through a power point slide presentation, the report identified the following advantages for doing business in Tredyffrin Township:

•           Low and stables taxes
•           Diversity of employer
•           Transportation/location
•           Excellent school system
•           Existing township efficiencies

Disadvantages for business in Tredyffrin:

•           Land constrained/redevelopment dependent
•           Paoli traffic/parking/walkability
•           Danger of outdated office product

Nishikawa explained there is a real and existing danger in the outdated office space inventory in the township.  The majority of the corporate office space was constructed in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.  Now 30 years old, the buildings are no longer able to attract the larger employers.  If there is not an investment in office buildings, the higher quality employers will leave.  If investment dollars do not keep up the office space, these buildings will continue to disintegrate.  According to Nishikawa the only lever to pull – dropping rent – will only result in a continued drop in value of the office space, which will drive down the real estate assessment and thus create a longer term problem.

As explained by Nishikawa, there were lots of ideas and they were challenged to vet them.  Under the recommendation context, the following themes were mentioned:

•           Probability of success versus potential benefit versus cost
•           Suggestion to take a holistic approach
•           Create an environment that is business and user friendly
•           Suggest a proactive approach

The report recommended that the township (supervisors?) do the following:

•           Name a senior leadership business liaison
•           Personal touch
•           Promote advantages
•           Modernize zoning codes
•           Create website for commercial users
•           Offer online permitting
•           Education/interaction programs
•           Support the Paoli Transportation project
•           Residential appeal

Here’s where this report failed to inspire or suggest anything that has not already been said before.  Although Nishikawa states a “personal touch” is needed to encourage business development and that the township should promote the advantages of doing business in the township, how is this accomplished?  The welcome wagon, cheerleader approach to attract business is subjective … more like a PR/marketing campaign than something easily accomplished by staff or elected officials.

Nishikawa returned often to the need for elected officials to support the Paoli Transportation project.  He stated that the project has been sitting around for 30 years and that the township needs to do everything it can to move it forward.  An extremely expensive plan, state and federal dollars are needed and the township must help. This is old news – plus, under their ‘disadvantages’ of doing business in Tredyffrin, the report names traffic, parking and walkability as negative issues in Paoli.  Although the report states that there is community support for the train station project, it is also suggests there is concern for its future and the need for elected officials to help move it forward.

Following the presentation from the Business Development Advisory Committee, the question was where do we go from here?  What’s the next step?  A motion was made by the supervisors to put together a plan and add the discussion for the supervisors August meeting to implement the recommendations.

I wanted this advisory committee to do more … I wanted concrete steps for economic development.  One suggestion listed in the report — to create ‘education/interaction programs’ – What? How?  Another suggestion, develop a ‘holistic’ approach to business development … What?  The report states that the township needs to take a ‘proactive’ approach… How? Where are the specifics? What are the suggested steps? 

I have a friend who always tells me, that just because I ‘want something’ to be a certain way, doesn’t mean that it ‘will be’.  The volunteer advisory committee probably believes that their report accomplishes what was requested and that they met the mission’s goals and objectives, but did they?  I restate from the township website, “…The end result of this ad hoc council will be the development of a series of strategies along with suggested tactics, budgets, resources, and timing required to accomplish the Township’s business development goals.”  I expected, and wanted more, in the way of specifics from this Business Development Advisory Committee.

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I hope to provide other updates from last night’s meeting later today.

13 Comments

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  1. A couple of representatives from the BDAC (one of which was Stanford Nishikawa) were at the “Devon Petitions” meeting organized by Sean Moir and Rich Brake in February. Residents came up with several concrete strategies for helping businesses in the Township:

    1. We should study how other successful business areas, such as King of Prussia, West Chester, Phoenixville and Exton do business and manage long term planning and development.

    2. Property managers, developers, and planners from Paoli and Chesterbrook should meet with the Gateway property managers to discuss their success.

    3. The township or the business community should create a website that emphasizes the positive aspects of doing business in Tredyffrin.

    4. We should survey local businesses in to find out what their biggest concerns/recommendations are, and look at how to make township processes more amenable to starting/keeping a business.

    5. More and better roadside and highway signage should be installed to help drive business to places like Chesterbrook and Valley Fair Shopping Centers.

    6. The Tredyffrin Business Development Advisory Council (BDAC) should take the lead in implementing the above recommendations.

    We can agree or disagree about their merits, but the first 5 are actual strategies, and residents came up with them in about an hour! I appreciate the effort the council members have contributed, but I agree that this report does not match the expectations raised and also wonder when specifics will be developed.

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  2. Yes, thank you for the reminder.about the Devon Petition evening. I too attended and there was much discussion among residents about Chesterbrook and Gateway shopping centers — how to encourage new business and also a push to involve the local small business owners in the discussion. We discussed successful development areas in the greater community. Stanford was in attendance at this meeting and it was my impression that he (and other members of the advisory council) would use suggestions from the residents.

    On the subject of economic development, it was interesting to read in today’s Phoenixville Patch, http://www.phoenixville.patch.com that Phoenixville is breaking ground on a $5.6 million new borough hall.

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  3. In 1958 Burroughs, now Unisys, established a factory facility at 2476 Swedesford Rd in the Great Valley. Over the years it became primarily an office building. Unisys sold it and leased it back. In 2010 new owners, Exeter Property Group, gutted the building and renovated it into new office space. The facility now has multiple tenants.

    http://exeterpg.com/pdfs/2476%20Swedesford%20Rd.pdf

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  4. Borrowing $5,600,000 to build a government building is “economic development”?! LOL

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    Chesterbrook Resident Reply:

    Like sitting around and doing nothing is economic development — that is the bigger joke. Actually, the business development group is the real joke. I can still remember this economic dev group idea appeared on campaign materials last year with promises, promises, promises from some of the candidates. And now we have the results LOL

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  5. Is tredyffrin too unwieldy for the type or way it is governed to get anything done? I know NYC is bigger but maybe there is an inherent fault in the way tredyffrin is governed.

    How does Phoenixville get stuff done, Malvern, others

    Just throwing it out. We seem fossilized as nothing really seems to get done around here of any consequence.

    paoli train station.. the new blue route.

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  6. There were so many significant issues discussed at last night’s BOS meeting that I’d recommend Tredyffrin residents take the time to watch it.

    Unfortunately, the Business Development Advisory Committee’s report was one of the less memorable segments of the meeting. Though Mr. Mishikawa’s presentation was thoughtful and clear, I was struck by the obvious question:

    Why are many of these recommendations not already in place?

    How much expense is involved in updating the township website to be more user-friendly to commercial users and permit seekers?

    Why has our township not prioritized attracting businesses and residents to our township with a promotional video on our website? Go to Upper Merion and watch this:

    http://www.umtownship.org/mediacenter.aspx?VID=2

    Will Mishsikawa’s recommendation that the Township do everything it can to promote the development of the Paoli transportation Center continue to fall on deaf ears?

    Here’s a vision of a redeveloped Paoli: http://mainlinemedianews.com/articles/2012/04/09/main_line_suburban_life/news/doc4f833621221ff327366869.txt?viewmode=fullstory

    So what’s the hold-up? Is it, as has been quoted, a lack of political will by local elected officials?

    We found out last night that federal funding will pay for the extension of the Chester Valley Trail from Wegmans in Malvern to Warner Rd in Wayne. $8.3 million. The construction of our sidewalks around CHS and VFMS were funded by federal dollars. What else might be federally funded? Why is the state not involved in moving this project forward? Paoli is the busiest regional train station outside of Philadelphia.

    We need an all-out focus on this project. At this point, every other development project is small potatoes by comparison.

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    Roberta Hotinski Reply:

    Just a reminder that the BOS meetings are available online with links to the various segments so that you can skip to the parts that interest you (e.g., “BDAC Report”): http://tredyffrin.pegcentral.com.

    A fantastic idea – kudos to whomever conceived and implements this.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    While I understand the passion behind the vision for a redeveloped Paoli, the article you linked to has one key component that I still believe is not a solution, but a problem:

    “The Paoli Transportation Center will cost $35,615,000, and will provide “an intermodal station complete with high-level platforms, waiting area, ticket offices and passenger amenities;…bus facilities;… a new commuter parking facility;… [reconfigured] access roads and entrances to the station;… new pedestrian linkages throughout the station area including sidewalks, crosswalks, and a concourse linking inbound and outbound station platforms,” according to SEPTA.”

    This plan does not update/revitalize a suburban town. This urbanizes and brings congestion to a town on a train line. Do you foresee children living in the mixed use apartments (at $15k tax dollars apiece for school). Does the phrase “bus facilities” not set off alarms to those residents of the larger community?

    Revitalizing Paoli is a wonderful concept. Repurposing a small suburban village into a transportation hub is a very different decision. I simply do not embrace it and don’t believe the vision is what we need.

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  7. Tredyffrin has many constituent parts — Paoli, Chesterbrook, Strafford, Wayne, Berwyn….regional planning would take some serious effort. Again, drive Rt. 30 from Paoli to Philadelphia and you will see “cities” like Bryn Mawr and Ardmore that have the basic amenties in place (parking, sidewalks, public transit) and you will see countless empty storefronts. Why open a store when you can do it without overhead online through ebay or similar online presences.

    See what Corbett is doing for his side of the state — it takes tax money to draw people here, and we really don’t have a mechanism to benefit locally from businesses relocating here.

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  8. One of the items suggested was “modernize the zoning codes”. Really?!?

    Isn’t that what the Planning Commission has been trying to do only to have local groups say no. This township will not “grow” until we can establish a good climate for redevelopment.

    What’s the current status of Shire? Are they going or staying?

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  9. There is no parking in Paoli town center district. That is the problem. Whine and moan all you want but until someone starts knocking down buildings nothing will change. Maybe some awnings and another frozen yogurt place will revitalize Paoli!

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    Township Reader Reply:

    The national economy is a problem. Malls are a competition problem. Online shopping is an alternative — so that’s a problem. Rt 30’s incredible overdevelopment/commercial density is a problem. Not sure parking is such an obvious solution.

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