Business Development Advisory Committee

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.

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