As the adage says, variety is the spice of life, right? I think this is also true when it comes to economic development, especially at the local level.
So why are we having yet another donut shop in town? In Tuesday's Newport Daily News there was a brief story alluding to a Sip & Dip being put in to half of the empty structure formerly used by Sakonnet Gardens at Bliss Four Corners (Bulgarmarsh and Crandall Roads). While the crux of the story had to do with the debate on putting a drive-through window in and the growing interest in that part of town, I want to talk about how this is just a bad move altogether.
With Sip & Dip, that brings the total number of donut shops to three within a half-mile radius of one another (Dunkin Donuts and Moose Cafe being the others). Do we really need this? Yes, competition benefits consumers in terms of price, access, and variety, but c'mon, we're talking about coffee, donuts, and bagels.
To me, this is a (dough-y, sugary) smudge on our local economy.
So what IS our local economic development plan? I went to the town's website to look at minutes from the Economic Development Committee’s (EDC) meetings to see if I could find out. I will say that out of all the committees in town the EDC’s activities are fairly well documented – if you go to the town website looking for them. While there is lots of the mundane administrative stuff, here are a few things that appeared of interest:
- Bourne Mill redevelopment and efforts to partner with a still-to-be-formed North Tiverton Business alliance to think through how to develop and maximize the retail component (Did you know that this project will be LEED certified? That is great news.). Other discussion focused on how to develop new businesses in North Tiverton.
- Something about a “Main Road Initiative”. I believe this ties into reviewing and enhancing the “design standards” for commercial entities along Main Road from Souza Road to the Fall River Line. Of particular interest was discussion of transforming “roads” primarily used for vehicular traffic into “streets” that are much more sensitive to pedestrian needs.
- Figuring our ways to promote the EDC’s efforts (Though the quoted costs of $2,000-3,000 to build and maintain a website on a yearly basis are way off the mark. Pick up a piece of basic web design software, get a domain name and an ISP and you’re off and running for a couple hundred dollars. Volunteer time to keep it maintained.)
Another positive note is this ProJo story focusing on how the state is stepping up efforts to develop its industrial base and invest in those small-to-medium-sized companies that make up the bulk of the local economic engine. In attendance was James Goncalo, Tiverton Town Administrator.
I’m glad to learn about these efforts and agree that the EDC should be doing more to promote themselves and their activities. That said, I do hope the town can avoid situations like the impending Donut Wars that will be taking place at Bliss Four Corners. With that in mind, here are a few of my own ideas:
- We have a landfill close to capping. That is dead space unless you get creative. It's also a mountain of would-be energy. Find a company to come in and set up a methane gas power plant. Oh wait, there's already one making nice-nice with the state. Bet you they might also handle some of the infrastructure investment. Or perhaps using all that garbage to create organic fertilizer?
- Production tax credits have been renewed, the state is negotiating for wind farm developers, towns are looking to invest in renewable energy projects. That's going to mean business for all the players in the renewable energy supply chain (manufacturing, installation, maintenance). How about pitching the town for some of these businesses to set up more local operations?
- A grocery store; or perhaps a “network” of smaller-scale grocers like that of Green Grocer in Portsmouth.
- Develop more small-scale office space to attract white collar and professional services companies.
- Capitalizing on our natural space and attracting next-generation farmers to help further develop our (sustainable) agricultural base.
Developing the local economy is not a shot-in-the-arm, one time deal. It takes vision, strategy, synergistic public policies, and a small army of dedicated people to make it all happen.
The EDC should open its ranks to involve more people, publicize its efforts, and engage every possible link in the economic development value chain. Together we can make it happen without resorting to the Donut Death Star.