Billerica officials developing strategies to acquire new businesses

By Mary K. McBride | Wicked Local Billerica | June 12, 2015

BILLERICA

“You are all here because you are major stakeholders in Billerica’s economic development.” That was the way Town Manager John Curran greeted the 35 members of town boards and committees, department heads, town officials, and other invited participants to a discussion about EDSAT (Economic Development Self-Assessment Tool) with Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy on June 2 in the Town Hall Auditorium.

According to Bluestone, “EDSAT is a practical tool to help cities and towns analyze their capacity for economic development. With over 250 questions, this rigorous examination helps public officials explore their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.” The purpose of the program is to see how well Billerica is positioned to compete with other communities to draw businesses to town. The questions are divided into 10 categories, among them: access to customers and markets, available labor, the municipal process, business incentives and tax rates. Bluestone and his team will analyze the answers provided to help communities determine strengths and weaknesses of a town’s situation as it relates to bringing new businesses to town.

Assistant Town Manager Cathleen O’Dea said, “We heard Bluestone speak and explain the EDSAT process, we wanted to do it and the timing was perfect, with our new Economic Development Director Rob Anderson starting. It will provide us with a blueprint for development.” In advance of the meeting, town officials and staff worked together to answer the 250 questions, and these answers were shared with those in attendance. Some questions elicited much discussion, such as traffic. Participants were quite divided on whether to characterize Billerica’s traffic as light, moderate or heavy, and that discussion mirrored attendees’ exposure to traffic in other communities during morning and evening rush hours. Bluestone, who lives in Cambridge, refereed the rather heated discussion and invited Billerica residents to experience Cambridge rush hour traffic. In the end, the group decided Billerica traffic was moderate relative to other cities and towns in the area. Questions about the length of time it takes Billerica to complete building permits, site plan review, and special permits also drew discussion.

Bluestone and his team will analyze results and compare Billerica’s statistics to those of peer cities and towns. The group will reconvene in September to hear Bluestone explain what strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats Billerica possesses when compared to other communities also competing for new business. Those results will influence the town’s strategy as the new economic development/community development director takes the reins.

Billerica’s first full-time economic development/community development director is Rob Anderson, who came to Billerica in May. Anderson brings with him 12 years of experience in economic development working for MassEcon and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development. He has primarily worked at the state level, and now will focus his skills on bringing new and retaining existing businesses within Billerica.

“Economic development is very collaborative,” Anderson told those in attendance with great enthusiasm, as he invited everyone to stop by his office and get to know him.

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