Donna Shipman

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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Long Awaited Report from Tredyffrin Twp Business Development Advisory Council … Soon to be released

Because of increasing empty storefronts and vacant corporate buildings, I wrote a post fourteen months ago asking if there was anything that could be done to attract new businesses and stimulate long-term, stable, economic growth in our community. In the February 2, 2011 article, I said,

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 . . .

A couple of months after this article appeared in Community Matters, the Board of Supervisors approved the creation of a Tredyffrin Business Development Advisory Council in April 2011.  Supervisors Michele Kichline, Phil Donohue and Mike Heaberg held meetings with local companies, real estate and leasing representatives, etc. and designed a model for this volunteer advisory group.

Following the establishment of the criteria, community members wishing to participate were asked to submit letters of interest for consideration.  From the 20 applications received, six residents were chosen to serve on the advisory board including Dan Fishbein, VP of BNY Mellon; Eric Kleppe, Turner Investments; Stanford Nishikawa, junk-bond analysis and private investor; Jim Sanborn, Gen Manager, Interstate & Ocean Transport Company; John Susanin, SSHH Real Estate and Bill Thomsen, Urban Engineers. In my November 15, 2011 Community Matters post, I provided the announcement of the advisory group members and their mission,

“This group was chosen for its cross section of business, strategic, planning and marketing expertise.  They are highly skilled citizens who do not currently serve on our boards and commissions and have agreed to take a critical look at all aspects of the Township that relate to business development and business retention.  This includes, but is not limited to zoning, transportation and marketing.”

In addition to supervisors Kichline, Donahue, Heaberg, and the six citizens listed above, four community liaison members were named to assist the group – Tory Snyder, Planning Commission; Beth Brake and Donna Shipman, Community Affairs and Small Business; and to represent the Paoli Business community, Dave Rowland.

As explained last fall by the supervisors, the group would work together for 4-6 months and then present their findings, which were to include recommendations and suggestions.  As follow-up to their public report, it was intended that a long-term business advisory group would be created.  It was recently announced that the advisory group is completing their study and will present their report at the supervisors meeting on June 18.  I look forward to their report and am hopeful that there will be some positive news.  However, I was troubled to learn yesterday from one of the named liaisons to the group – Donna Shipman that she was never contacted by the advisory group nor was she asked to provide input.  According to Donna, she contacted several supervisors to express her concern but there was no follow-up from the advisory group.

This information is concerning … was Donna’s experience as a liaison to this advisory group an isolated situation?  Were the other three liaison members involved and part of the process?  As they conducted their research, who in the community was contacted by the advisory group?  Did they speak with members of the small business community, corporate and real estate representatives, the township staff? I believe that there was potential for the Business Development Advisory Council to make a difference in the community through outreach and research … did the group achieve their mission?  

We are all interested in the revitalization of our community and the current economic climate presents unique challenges.  The political influence of elected leadership is critical to helping communities stay the course toward a vibrant economic future. Dedicated leadership is needed to raise awareness, help develop and communicate a common vision and motivate the community into action.  Our elected officials have opportunities every day to effect change and promote a strategic vision of economic growth for their community growth. Is this a priority of our elected officials and if so, how successful are they in meeting the objective?

At a friend’s suggestion, I recently spent some time driving and walking around downtown Malvern. By the way, I would encourage everyone to take the time and visit this place … talk about economic redevelopment!  Wow. It is so exciting to see all the changes and development, including adaptive re-use of existing buildings and new construction, in their town center.  As an example, the original old Malvern fire company building, off King Street, was restored and retrofitted for mixed-use; the lower level commercial and upper level residential condominiums. Brick walkways, Victorian light posts and flowering planters line the downtown area the length of King Street; a total renaissance is occurring in this small borough,  next-door to the west of us.

I want what Malvern has managed to achieve, for ‘our’ community.  Malvern, Phoenixville, Wayne, West Chester, Media – all these places are faced with similar economic issues as ‘us’, yet these places are moving ahead in spite of the challenges … so why can’t we?

Looking forward to the public report from Tredyffrin Township’s Business Development Advisory Council on June 18; I want to hear the group’s ideas and suggestions on ways to revitalize and stimulate economic growth in our community.

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