Eric Kleppe

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.

Devon Petitions: Where do we go from here?

I attended the Devon Petitions town hall meeting last night.  Organized by Sean Moir and Rich Brake, 34 residents attended, including elected officials —  State Rep Warren Kampf, township supervisor Mike Heaberg and school board director Anne Crowley (in addition to school board director Rich Brake).

The basis for the Devon Petitions: Community Solutions for a Better Tredyffrin was a four question on-line survey.  Moir and Brake offered that they received 114 responses to their survey. The four questions were broad in their scope.  On the township side, the questions asked responders (1) to list recommendations for stimulating economic growth and (2) what did they consider the greatest challenges for long-term economic growth in the township.  On the school district side, the survey asked responders to (1) list recommendations for improving student achievement and (2) the greatest challenge to improving educational quality in T/E.

Moir presented the responses to the township side of the survey and Brake presented the responses for the school district questions.

For the township side of the survey, Moir presented the list of responses to the two questions.

Question: Revitalizing the local economy of Tredyffrin Township in these tough economic times is a top priority for our community. Please list your top two or three concrete recommendations that will stimulate economic growth without busting the township budget. Here are the responses based on the order of popularity:

1.  Paoli downtown

  • Paoli transportation center
  • Improved parking

2.  Taxes

  • Keep property taxes low
  • Tax breaks for business
  • Implement EIT
  • Don’t implement EIT
  • Chesterbrook
  • Better walkability/sidewalks
  • Community events
  • Reduce regulations

Question: What do you see as the greatest challenge(s) to achieving long-term economic growth in Tredyffrin Township? Here are the responses based on the level of popularity:

1. National economy

2. Maintaining property values

3. Politics get in the way

4. Taxes

  • keep taxes low
  • reluctance to raise taxes
  • reliance on corporate taxes
  • reliance on transfer taxes

5. Improve permit process

6. No downtown

7. Lack of vision

8. Competition from other townships

As reported by Moir and Brake, the majority of those that responded to the survey, considered the Paoli town center and transportation center as most important for stimulating growth in the township.  The discussion from the audience quickly turned to the empty storefronts, not just in Paoli but also throughout the township.  The general feeling from those in attendance was there needs to be greater support for the community’s small business owners and the suggestion to reducing the ‘red tape’ of regulations and permit issues.

Two of the six members of the township’s Business Development Advisory Council, Stanford Nishikawa and Eric Kleppe attended the meeting and explained their mission was to develop strategies for economic stimulus in the township and to present their recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.

It was apparent to me last night, that many residents share my concern and desire to support small businesses in the township.  As a small business owner in the township, I find it very troubling that there are no small business owners sitting on the advisory board.  Although  Nishikawa and Kleppe discussed meeting with Judy Huey and her brother Rob (owners of Paoli Village Shoppes), I was unclear on any further outreach plans by the advisory group to small business owners.  Kleppe explained that the group started meeting in December and the project is to take 4-6 months before the public hears their recommendations. Keeping money local and in the community by supporting local small businesses is important and Nishikawa and Kleppe were encouraged to receive genuine input from the small business owners. Here’s hoping that they heard the message and take it back to the other members.

There were suggestions that the economic advisory group should look at successful business areas within the township (Gateway Shopping Center) and communities outside the township (Media,Wayne, Phoenixville,West Chester) that have successful business models and see if it can be duplicated in downtown Paoli.

The survey results indicated the national economy as the greatest challenge for achieving long-term economic growth in Tredyffrin.  Because of the economic situation, another challenge then becomes how does the community maintain their property values? Although not intended as a political project by Moir and Brake, it was interesting to note that respondents to the Devon Petition, suggested lack of vision in the community and politics as challenges for long-term economic growth in the township.

For the school district side of the survey, Brake provided a list of the responses to the two questions.

Question: Improving the educational quality of our T/E schools in these tough economic times is a top priority for our community. Please list your top two or three concrete recommendations that will improve student achievement without busting the district budget.  Here are the responses/issues to the in order of popularity:

1. Budgetary Recommendations

  • More realistic salaries, benefits & pensions for teachers
  • No more educational program cuts/maintain spending
  • New local revenue sources
  • Greater use of budgetary reserves

2. Curricular Recommendations

  • More focus on core subjects/less on non-academics
  • Reinstate improve foreign language offerings
  • Less standardized testing
  • Better math/science education
  • Maintain small class sizes
  • Better vocational/technical education for real-world jobs

3. Public Private Partnership Recommendations

  • Solicit & secure corporate support for academic programs
  • Establish institutional advancement initiatives (Philanthropy)
  • Volunteer teaching opportunities

4. School Day/Climate Recommendations (tied for 3rd)

  • Start school day later
  • More focus on average student
  • Year-round school
  • All day kindergarten
  • Redesign middle schools
  • Address drug/alcohol problem
  • More parental involvement
  • Less “busy-work” homework

5. Teacher Recommendations

  • Better support of teachers/teaching training
  • Implement merit pay programs
  • Explore alternative teacher certification programs
  • Better guidance counselors

6. IT Recommendations

  • More online courses
  •   Better IT infrastructure for e-learning
  •  Improved educational web pages

Question: What do you see as the greatest challenge(s) to improving the educational quality of our T/E schools? Here are the responses/issues to the in order of popularity:

1. Pension

2. Taxaphobia (#2 and #3 tied)

2. TEEA salaries/contract

4. Program cuts

5. Sub-par teaching methods

6. State mandates

7. Rising health costs

8. No problems with quality

9. Too much standardized testing (tied)

9. Lack of support for teachers (tied)

11. Keeping small class sizes (tied)

11. High administration costs (tied)

11. Lack of original thinking (tied)

Funding the state pension and the current teacher contract negotiations were discussed as the most important school district issues.  Although there is high regard for the T/E schoolteachers, it was the consensus that the next teachers contract needs to include a more reasonable benefit plan, particularly health care.

I have attended many school board meetings and subcommittee meetings and I don’t know of any public/private partnership discussions.  The idea of partnering with local corporations and providing volunteer teaching opportunities was innovative and could be explored ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking to help with the escalating school district cost.

I asked Moir and Brake their thoughts on last night’s meeting; were they pleased/disappointed.  Brake responded,

The results of our survey confirm that our community is fully aware of the budgetary challenges that the school district faces, as the pension crisis and a more sustainable salary and benefits package for our fine teachers were the most mentioned responses to our two education questions. These twin budgetary concerns were tied, not surprisingly, to the public’s desire to maintain our high educational standards and results. Clearly, the community is ready for problem solving in those two areas, and are eager to continue the process of educating the public in order to build community consensus and forward momentum. I walked away encouraged that we have a very smart and realistic community, and they are ready to exercise leadership in these areas.

Moir’s response,

I’ll add that I was happy with the turnout, which was 34 people including the presenters. It was nice to see a mix of state and local officials, various board and commission members, as well as residents who are not the “usual suspects” at board meetings.

Once we get our notes together, I’m hoping that the Tredyffrin Business Development Advisory Council will follow through with some of the citizen suggestions, which included meeting directly with commercial property managers, developers, and small business owners to discuss what it might take to stimulate local business development. That was something that we seemed to have consensus on that cut across party lines – just the kind of common ground we were hoping for.

Moir and Brake hope to have the meeting notes available for distribution next week.  In response to my “what’s next”, they think they will know more after they send out the notes and ask for participant feedback.  According to Brake, he is “hopeful that some audience members will take up the mantle.”

So, where does this grass roots effort really go from here?  Last night’s audience members were engaged and respectful but as contained in the meetings introduction,Tredyffrin Township has a population of 29,000 people living in 11,000 households.  Yet only 114 people responded to the Devon Petition survey and only 34 people showed up for the meeting.  Yes, it was a holiday weekend and people were away but . . .  ?

For change to occur, we need people with a vision and then the willingness and determination to make their vision a reality. The very essence of leadership is vision.  As Henry Ford said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”

So … where do we go from here?

Tredyffrin’s 2012 Preliminary Budget + Business Development Advisory Council Announced

I attended the Board of Supervisors meeting last night but based on the notes from Ray Clarke, it sounds like the Finance Committee meeting and the EIT discussion of the school board was more action-packed.  Because of the amount of information, I will present some updates from the BOS meeting and then separately provide Ray’s notes from the TESD.

The township economic advisory group that I advocated for on Community Matters in February 2011 has finally come together.  Although this new group was approved by the supervisors in April, it has been a long process to finally have the group announced.  Supervisors Donahue, Heaberg and Kichline have held meetings with local companies, real estate and leasing representatives, etc. during the last several months to create a model for this advisory group.  Once they established the criteria, community members were asked to submit letters of interest and resumes and we were told last night that they received 20 applications for the committee.

The newly formed economic advisory group is to be called Tredyffrin Business Development Advisory Council. The announcement read, “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.”

The members of the TBDAC are Dan Fishbein, Eric Kleppe, Stanford Nishikawa, Jim Sanborn, John Susanin and Bill Thomsen. Although their individual backgrounds were not offered, a quick online search reveals this is an impressive group of people!

  • Dan Fishbein, VP of BNY Mellon/Urdang Capital  (real estate industry)
  • Eric Kleppe, Director of Client Services at Turner Investments
  • Stanford Nishikawa,  former junk-bond analyst who now runs his family’s investments
  • Jim Sanborn, VP and General Manager of Interstate & Ocean Transport Company
  • John Susanin, Partner in SSH Real Estate, brokerage and investment company
  • Bill Thomsen, Senior VP at Urban Engineers, Inc.

In addition to the three supervisors (Kickline, Donahue and Heaberg), the six citizens listed above, there will be four liaison members — Tory Snyder, Planning Commission; Beth Brake and Donna Shipman, Community Affairs and Small Business; and Dave Rowland, Paoli Business community.

As explained last night, the group will meet periodically and present a report in the next 4-6 months. It is intended that following their report, a long term business advisory group will be created.

A major topic of the evening was the preliminary 2012 township budget.  Township manager Mimi Gleason presented her yearly budget summary.  She forecasts that the general fund balance for 2011 will decrease by over $100,000 versus budget. General fund expenditures are forecasted at $240,000 over budget (due primarily to storms). Overall, Gleason forecasts 2011 to end $377,000 under budget.  No surprises that the declining revenues are expected in 2012 and beyond.  The general fund revenue is expected to decrease another $130,000 in 2012, for a total decrease of $330,000 versus the 2011 budget. General fund expenditures is expected to remain flat from 2011 forecast and 1.5% greater than the 2011 budget.

With the preliminary draft, the 2012 budget has a $500,000 hole versus the 2011 budget. So how is the budget balanced and what does this mean for the taxpayer? Unless there are reductions in costs or services, this means a 6.9% millage real estate rate increase.

What are the contributing factors . . . the downturn in the economy, decrease in real estate and transfer tax, and $70K decrease in recycling grant from the state all contribute to lower revenue.  A number of township residents have had their homes reassessed, which is indicated by the lower real estate taxes paid to the township.  But I didn’t think about commercial reassessments and Tredyffrin had two significant companies with property reassessments – Vanguard and De Lage Landen (Dutch company with its US headquarters on Old Eagle School Rd, Wayne).  The combined real estate reassessments of these two corporate giants accounted for a major drop in revenue.

Remember this was just the first preliminary budget presentation; it is possible that the mileage real estate rate increase may drop.  As explained last night, if no changes are made in the budget, the 6.9% increase is approximately $34/year increase.  Don’t we wish that was the increase we were facing for the school district?

Here’s a link to the township’s 2012 preliminary budget.

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