Jul 28, 2014
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Sengle: "Who Takes Economic Development Seriously?"

"We all know what the informal definition of idiocy is – “doing the same things and expecting things to change.”

Sengle: "Who Takes Economic Development Seriously?"

 

This letter is written by Philip Sengle:

I continue to be very concerned about the lack of focus on economic development in Clinton while we continue to commit to large amounts of spending that better be supported by a growing tax base, which currently does not exist in Clinton.  On January 30 I attended a Board of Selectmen (BOS) work shop on the FY 2013/2014 town budget.  I was dismayed with what I heard regarding the Economic Development Commission (EDC) and wrote the following letter to the BOS the very next day (Jan. 31).

“Last night (Jan. 30) Mr. Vicino (EDC Chairman) presented an EDC budget proposal to the BOS.  I am supportive of activating the moribund EDC and funding it appropriately.   What little has been done to date represents what I would call “small ideas” and tiny “incrementalism.”  We need big ideas, aggressive action and professionalism.  Of course this cannot happen overnight, but we should start.  A trip “of 1,000 miles begins with the first step.”

I’ve been thinking about this for a while so I did an informal and superficial survey of what surrounding towns are doing for Economic Development.  It is surprising what can be done with professional leadership and modest funding.  See the survey below.  I sent this survey to some members of EDC, but received no response, which validates my opinion of EDC.  I’m hoping the BOS will jump on this as our grand list needs to grow.  We must not continue to rely solely on volunteers in this important and complex area of development.

As part of my survey I did place a few phone calls.  One was to the Guilford EDC Coordinator who spent 45 minutes with me explaining about 15 projects he had started or was involved in.  I was stunned by their simplicity, effectiveness and his enthusiasm.  I could not help but think, why isn’t Clinton doing these obvious things?  He proudly stated “I am Guilford’s salesman.”  This gentleman is a retired corporate executive who works 20-24 hours a week for a bargain rate considering his experience and energy.  I would be happy to tell you more at a meeting or individually.  He also offered to come here and give us an overview of his efforts.

With budgets on your mind, we should hire a similar person with real credentials in this area who is a self-starter.  The payback could be enormous.  Some towns use their town planner as their EDC Coordinator, which is an idea we should consider.  Of course we don’t have a town planner.  I am sure about one proposal made at last night’s workshop - we should not hire the current EDC Clerk as our consultant who I believe to be an employee of and campaign treasurer for Mr. Vicino and who may have no relevant experience in this area.  This is cronyism that leads us nowhere and is a waste of our time and tax money.  (Even worse it discourages volunteers from participating in committees, commissions and boards that are poorly led.)  It is time to get serious about economic development.”  (End of Letter).

On Jan. 30 Mr. Vicino asked for a budget of $20,419 in FY 2013/2014, up from a budget of $4,350 in the current year.  In most cases I would jump for joy, but knowing the EDC is dysfunctional and that he plans on hiring his employee and campaign treasurer, regardless of qualifications, as noted above, I was appalled to say the least.  I have to conclude that the only way the EDC will become functional and cronyism is eliminated, is to install a new chairman of EDC.  We all know what the informal definition of idiocy is – “doing the same things and expecting things to change.”  In a following workshop the BOS did reduce the EDC request to $7,400.  While stopping the potential waste of some tax money, it did nothing to make the EDC functional and promote development in Clinton.

My survey follows:

Below is what surrounding towns are doing found by a cursory review of town web sites, posted budgets and a few telephone conversations.

EDC Surrounding Town Survey

Guilford

Budget $37,000, asking for $43,000

Have paid Part time Economic Development Coordinator

Professional Economic Development Plan on Web Site

Strong EDC Web Site

Madison

Budget $8,350.

No paid person.

Has EDC web site

Westbrook

Budget $4,694, asking for $5,194.

Uses Town Planner for EDC work.

Old Saybrook

Budget $28,000.

Have paid part time Economic Development Coordinator

Link on town site refers to CT Economic Resource Center web site.

Branford

Budget $11,150 (not including person below)

Have full time Special Projects Manager & EDC Coordinator in Selectman’s Office.

Has good EDC Web Site.

Clinton

No budget for professional help.

No web site.

No coordinator.

No functioning EDC.

The towns with web sites include important information about their town, including available land and buildings and who to contact to assist them through the process.  Clinton has no such person.

-- Phil Sengle

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