Adams Focuses On New Economic Development Strategies

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco shares his ideas about creating an economic development coordinator post with the Selectmen.

ADAMS, Mass. — Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco says some strategic investments are needed to push Adams out of its economic doldrums.

"We need to invest in our community and economic development, and … the only way to get us out of the suction we are in is to grow the pie," Mazzucco told the Selectmen at Wednesday's workshop meeting. "We need to invest in positions and staff resources that are going to get us where we need to go."

He said one of the focal points of this push will be a marketing and economic development coordinator who would market current events, bring in employers, and bring in established events.

"It's about increasing the amount of people coming to us that want to do something here … there is not as many businesses beating down the door as we would like," he said. "It's about increasing the number of opportunities coming to the door."

Mazzucco said the coordinator would not do any community event planning. That would be left to the volunteer groups already in place.

Rather, the position would help "plug holes" in the Community Development Department and allow its Director Donna Cesan to focus on other things, such as larger community development projects like the Greylock Glen.

He would like to hire a town planner to help fill out the department even more.

"We call it community development but it is really the community economic development department, and we just haven't staffed the way we really should," Mazzucco said.  

The coordinator would also work as a downtown liaison and as a point person to help streamline event permitting.

Mazzucco said the job would change over time and mostly consist of research the first few years. He said it would be important for this person to collect inventory of downtown properties and the industrial park so the town can properly advertise.

"We need to develop that get it out there and put it on the Web because the people we want looking at these things, from the Boston and the New York area, if they can't find it, unless they are dying to get in, they are going to move on to something else," he said.

Selectman Jeffrey Snoonian said he want to make sure the job description is really clear and planned out so the town does not waste time and money. He brought up the tourism director position appointed last year that he believed was ultimately a failure.

"We went and we hired a great person for a great position as the tourism director and it didn't work out," Snoonian said. "It was either a little too soon … or the position was not defined enough."

Mazzucco said the marketing and economic development coordinator will be based out of Town Hall instead of the Visitor Center so the position will be more focused and integral in the Community Development Department. Tourism will not be a big part of the position and it will mostly focus on marketing and bringing jobs to the area. He added the position will have more resources than the tourism director did.

Mazzucco said the job would be funded — among other sources — by local lodging and meals taxes to be voted on at town meeting. He said this tax will bring an anticipated $80,000 annually, according to the Department of Revenue, that will be a dependable stream of revenue in the budget only used to help economic development.

The proposed local meals tax has met much opposition from restaurant owners who say the added fee would only make things more difficult for them.

The local tax would add three quarters of a percentage to the current state meals tax of 6.25 percent. For example, on a $25 bill, the tax would be $1.75, up from $1.56.

Mazzucco said he did not feel the added tax would deter people from going out to eat and the benefits would outweigh the cost for the restaurants and bars.

"Nobody likes tax, nobody likes the word tax, and nobody likes to pay taxes," he said. "It is a necessary evil and we have to have to look at whether it will really effect the business community, and I don't this will."

Mazzucco said other surrounding communities have adopted the tax, which Adams residents have to pay when they eat in them. He said restaurants still open in these areas.

"I understand the impact, but there are still restaurants opening in North Adams and Pittsfield whose commercial tax rate is substantially higher than ours," he said.

Mazzucco said if the meals tax is not accepted during town meeting, Adams will not be able to hire the coordinator and he will look to find the money in the budget in the future. He added this would mean the revenue stream would not be constant and the needed position could be more easily cut.

The added money from this revenue stream would also fund the proposed economic development committee that would augment the economic development coordinator.

Mazzucco has advocated for a 15-member volunteer group made of appointed members with experience in business, real estate, law, and insurance. He said the committee will not be deliberative group but a working group whose members are focused on using their individual expertise to go after "big fish."

He said the committee will focus on bringing in business that provide jobs, not on bringing in small businesses like restaurants. He said they would work directly with interested businesses.

"We need to focus on bringing business into town with jobs … the more jobs we have everything else we try to do becomes easier," he said.

Mazzucco said he would also like to increase Adams' Web presence and search engine optimization because when people search for Adams, they usually receive more information on North Adams.

"We need to make sure Adams is on the digital map because most people if they are outside of the area they are not going to find us," he said. "We are sort of just a black hole of Internet searches where all things North Adams come up."

He said the money could also be used for banners, benches, signage, and other amenities that often are hard to find grants for and difficult to take out of the budget. He also advocated for digital sign projectors downtown that would project messages or signage on the sides of buildings at night.

"It just illuminates on a brick wall, and we could put a few of those downtown," he said. "It is kind of cool and hip and adds to the signage at night … it's just a different way to do signage."

The Selectmen agreed with Mazzucco's ideas and said they would like to get things moving as fast as possible.  

"I think these are bold steps and big steps and the way we need to go to get us to grow the tax base," Selectman John Duval said. "If we go the other way we will get smaller and smaller and have to depend on other communities." 

Tags: community development,   economic development,   meals tax,   

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