The Global Pandemic has effected the community of Gardner in a myriad of ways. However, it will not limit the Wachusett Business Incubator from influencing the dialogue during our Mayoral Special Election. By some measures this election, the result of the resignation of recently elected Mark Hawke presents a significant opportunity to change the political discussion and the long-term direction of our wonderful city.
The intent of the Board Of Directors of the Wachusett Business Incubator and that of its staff is to focus attention on the capacity, both now and into the future of each candidates abilities as they relate to economic development. In lieu of a live forum or debate which would have taken place April 2, 2020 we’ve made the decision to provide a written record, drafted from each of the candidates themselves and sourced from a set of questions we provided to each candidate. The order in which they appear in this blog article is the order in which we received their answers. No editing was done to their responses, offering our readers a full account of each candidates approach.
We implore you to take the time to carefully review each of the candidates thoughts and ideas as they relate to economic development. There is perhaps no other set of parameters that can have more of an influence on Gardner’s future; whether we can properly finance new schools, better opportunities for the working class, more potential for entrepreneurship, for culturally significant amenities; nothing will become reality for the long-term without the means for financing it.
From the Candidates In their Own Words
To: Wachusett Incubator Board of Directors
From: Scott J. Graves, Candidate for Mayor of Gardner
Date: April 10, 2020
I am hereby responding to the questions that the Wachusett Incubator Board of Directors has provided to the Mayoral candidates.
We are presently in a Government-mandated Economic Shut-Down and stay-at-home directives. In the end, this will have been a prolonged shut-down of the Economy. Businesses will not recover, and, the ones that do, will struggle to regain balance and traction. So, there are many question marks and uncertainties. This is and will be into the future a new and severe challenge for the City, a municipality already financially challenged in just about every way and degree. The City, now more than ever, must be readied and focused to preserve and assist the businesses that were/are already here. There will be a great deal of City effort and resources devoted to doing just that. For a protracted period of time, the economic development engine room of this machine called Gardner will be dedicated to the recovery process. The City will be focusing on recovery for perhaps years in this regard. So, much economic development planning having to do with new projects, not just in Gardner but all over the Commonwealth, will be curtailed to the extent of this recovery effort. Meanwhile, however, the City must keep its eyes into the horizon, and the future. There is no reason why the ongoing projects and plans cannot be continued. There is no reason why we cannot still attract new development. Perhaps the crisis will create new opportunities for former mill towns like Gardner (it has become a “city” but we refer to it as a “town” still). These opportunities may come in the form of entrepreneurs or investor/developers who perhaps were forced to cease operations elsewhere due to things related to this Shut-Down, and would be looking for or investigating new starts, “reboots,” if you will – and fresh new places to reestablish their businesses, or new ones, and to chase their dreams in some new community. There will be many of these nomads, I predict, who will be looking for new homes when the dust of this pestilence has settled. Many will be looking for a change of scenery, if for no other reason than this scourge has given them the excuse they were always looking for. Perhaps there location now is in a community that cannot recover quickly enough, or appropriately enough, for them. Business people will be looking for places more welcoming in terms of cost/price per sq. ft., demographics, history, opportunity, labor force, infrastructure, whether there is an interstate or highway nearby, services, etc. – and Gardner can be that place. So, there is always a silver lining in that storm cloud. At the same time, State and Federal funding vehicles may be affected by this crisis, as will be City ability to do what it may have otherwise been able to do. I have made statements elsewhere that the City’s tax levy may be affected in the future – reflected in the loss of tax base from lost homes, business, properties. We hope this does not happen, but the Economic Shut-Down is unprecedented in our modern lives, and we have no idea what the consequences will be. One thing is for certain, it’s not going to be turn the key, put up the “open” sign – and its’ business as usual. That will not happen. It’s going to be a long process. So, again, there are some uncertainties about our future that impact the answers I give below.
The answers are all intertwined, so I hesitate to break them down in the manner in which they have been asked, and constrain them to one paragraph and not the others. But, I will do that because I trust it is what the WI-BOD would like. The caveat being: the answers should be considered as a comprehensive unit, each one dependent on and assisted by each other.
- Do you have an Economic Development Plan – what are the details and time frame.
I know what I want to do. We must point out that I never planned on running for Mayor at this time. When Mayor Hawke resigned, it was a surprise to me. So, this is not like the typical situation where someone plans for months and months in advance before he or she announces a candidacy as serious and critical as the one for this position. But, I know what the City needs – I’ve been in this Government for 15 years straight. The City has many plans and objectives by way of economic planning and development that are in various stages of progress. These are in various stages of implementation. The City has expended much time, resources, effort and money on these plans. So, it is important that the next Mayor pick up where the last Mayor left off. Of course, I am familiar with everything because I have been on the City Council for 15 or 16 years – nothing gets funded without the City Council. But, I do intend to jump in and get to the bottom of each one – to figure out what needs to be done in order to jump-start things – if that is possible. From the outside, it looks to me that things are moving slowly. The Urban Renewal Plan (“URP”) has been plodding along for some 15 years is various stages. The Rear Main St. portion of that Plan is a good example of how slow things are moving, and how ugly progress can be in between beginnings and ends. It needs to be speeded up. Part of that Plan involved a “Town Green,” which would connect the City Hall complex right to Main Street. The City needs that, and it must happen. Pleasant St. in front of the City Hall would be no more. This will require the purchase of at least 3 properties – it’s all in the URP. There are other aspects of the URP that are great ideas, and need to be accomplished, including mixed-use development utilizing new space for retail below and residences above. The promise that it would revitalize Downtown has obviously not been realized, and that needs to take place. There is too much on this subject to elaborate on – including that it would bring jobs to Gardner and totally revitalize our entire Downtown. That has not happened. The Mill St. Corridor Urban Renewal Plan is another Plan which is about 10 years along now. Neither Plan has been the economic juggernaut, in any way, shape or form that it was advertised to be, and the speed of progress is in low gear. There are many factors that slow things down – things like the state of the local economy, and the performance of State elected officials, and other such outside factors and adverse influences. The CEO of the City must be on top of this, at all times, and I will be.
Some of my ideas for economic development are included in the below answers, but I’ll say here that they include investigating the feasibility of an Anaerobic Digester to treat our sludge (sludge landfill issue). I have addressed this in a long response to Mr. Alan Rousseau – who asked the candidates his own questions, and who has my information, and it is public. There is not enough space to go into it here other than to say that it is an environmentally-sound approach to the sludge, which would negate the need to chew up more forest land, and expand the sludge landfill to absurd proportions. It also is revenue-producing, and very feasible and affordable (if the right public-private partnership can be negotiated, and there are opportunities in this regard). The City could be the first of its kind to do this, and real innovator in this responsible and impressive field of municipal infrastructure. Again, such an endeavor carries with it its own economic revenue-producing properties, such as energy generation and digestate (which is a form of compost, which can be sold), there are other benefits – including that our sludge landfill is in the Miller’s River (via Otter River) Watershed (which leads into the Connecticut River Watershed), and this AD approach is the environmentally-friendly way to go regarding the treatment and disposal of our sludge at that location.
2. What is possible to accomplish in first 2 year term
Well, the next Mayor does not get 2 years. He or she gets about 17 or 18 months (depending on the length of the Economic Shut-Down and whether the State Government extends it further). But, in the time frame I will tackle the Greenwood Pool situation – if the City Council decides to do something. My idea is to demolish it, and re-purpose its architectural aspects that might be able to be salvaged – and use them in the construction of some type of pavilion/public park space there. Funding for this planning was built into the Urban Renewal Master Plan, if I recall. But, that was the last time I heard about funding connected to that scheme. In that time frame, I will also have a conceptual plan for the extension of that park to connect to the former National Grid substation next to the Elks, which ties into the bike path and also Monument Park. There are also private entities who have an interest for a 50 meter Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool where the present outdoor pool is now. This will bring several meets and competitions in the summer months, when organizations all over the country are looking for locations for their events. The competitions bring in 500-600 competitors into the City, and sometimes for the entire weekend – all of those people eat in the City and will stay overnight during certain meets and events. It brings life into the City, and carries on the historic swimming tradition that is unique to the City. That entire location of the City, on the beautiful Crystal Lake can be a gem in this City, and will bring in thousands of visitors into the City during the summer and fall months. This entire area will be perfect for weddings and other gatherings of people. In the location where the Gardner Cinema building was torn down, the City needs to increase focus. There is no reason why the City cannot have another area or pavilion where local bands or artists can play music – right in the heart of Downtown, because life needs to be brought into this old business district, because it’s hurting right now. If the City does build a “Town Green,” that would be another great place to have a stage/pavilion. We need to look into increasing the size of our sidewalks Downtown in order to create sitting areas for cafes and restaurants (zoning can be changed to accommodate outdoor seating). Route 2 is an eyesore that split the City such that South Gardner Village is the ignored part of the City. South Gardner will be tended to, and it has been ignored for decades. We have the Victorian Mansion there, and the South Gardner Fire Station and the old Pewter Owl. The Victorian Mansion needs friends, needs activity there. The Fire Station and the old Pewter Owl (across Union Street from the Mansion), are two places that are the sources of new life. The Fire Station can be taken off-line, and sold and developed (or the GRA can get involved in some type of public/private partnership). The old Pewter Owl needs to be demolished. That is prime real estate, and an anchor location for South Gardner. South Gardner is a hidden gem. We need to use Route 2 to our advantage – like Athol did. I have been asking for some time about this. Senator Tran is interested in improving Route 2 to take people out of Gardner, and I want to use it to bring people into Gardner. It is more of a long-range goal, but we need to get the discussion started as to whether we can get a new exit on Route 2 – maybe, but not only, where the Industrial Park is. Route 2 should not just be an escape route, we need to take advantage of it. State involvement, DOT, etc. will be a key to achieving anything in this regard, and it will take a long time, but it has to begin somewhere. Though Route 2 had much to do in taking much business away from Downtown, we are stuck with it. Let’s use it. We need to be more aggressive in marketing Gardner, filling up our plazas and shopping districts. We have the Mill St. Corridor that is just waiting for business ventures. The Lake Street Fire Station (used to be a “visitor’s center”) needs to be utilized – a gallery for the arts would be perfect for it. Whatever the use, it needs to be opened, and State Representatives for 10 years have made all sorts of promises for that beautiful space. But, it’s mothballed and cobwebbed still. That would promote arts in this City – something the City has not been interested in doing, and the City should have an Art Walk, like so many other communities do. That is where people walk through the Downtown area, and look at art in all the shops and stores, and, if they want, purchase original art for affordable prices. It brings life to the City, and it is a fun thing to do, that does not cost families money. I will be a champion of the Arts, believe me. That location would also be perfect for a diet center. People in Gardner simply are not educated in nutrition. We need to be educated, and inspired – especially for the children. We can slim down and get fit. This is a necessity in this City. We have been asking for some time for the MBTA Commuter Rail to return to Gardner. A City like Gardner which is a mere few miles down the tracks from the next stop on the Line, with around 21,000 citizens, should not have to beg for this. This is a serious matter that has to be discussed and brought to the forefront of the City’s goals. We already have MART and the rails at Union Square. Funding for this planning was built into our Urban Renewal Plan. This should be a no-brainer, but, then again, we have to rely on State bureaucrats to accomplish this, something that I will have no problem doing. I can’t keep going here but there is so much more.
3. How does your Plan take advantage of existing regional, state and federal programs or incentives?
We have an Economic Development office and personnel who are all familiar with all funding and grant opportunities that are or might be available to the City. The City is participating in the MA Economic Development Incentive Program (EDIP), a tax incentive program that involves a partnership between the company, the City and MA Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (OHED), and there are other opportunities in this regard and along these lines. Gardner is a state-designated Economic Target Area, and the URA has been designated an Economic Opportunity Area (EOA) where certified projects can be located – so businesses that develop or expand in an EOA may be eligible for EDIP incentives intended to encourage further investment. Under State law, the city can apply for and secure approval for an Invested Revenue District (IRD), which is the first step in the District Improvement Financing (DIF) approval process, and the City has done this before (I think related to the Urban Renewal Plan). Some of this is coordinated through the Mass Economic Assistance Coordinating Council. Other funding vehicles, which may be mixed together on certain projects to make things happen, including CDBG funding, state initiative funding, and a mix of public and private financing with the use of state and federal historic tax credits, New Markets Tax Credits. There might be Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), funding from CEDAC (Community Economic Development Assistance Corp.), MassDevelopment, EPA brownfields funding (for which Gardner has been approved in the past and has utilized), as well as Gardner’s EPA-funded brownfields revolving loan fund (there are some present issues as to its present status in Gardner), and District Improvement Financing (the DIF mentioned above). PACE Bonds and Green Communities can be used for energy conservation. Formation of a Business Improvement District would provide additional resources for programmatic activities in Downtown. The Community Preservation Act funding is another source, related to open space areas including in Downtown, as well as funding for historic preservation or affordable housing. The MassWorks Infrastructure Program is another grant program that provides a source of funds to municipalities for public infrastructure projects that support and accelerate housing production, spur private development, and create jobs, so that works as well. MassDevelopment is also another partner the City will work with on certain project, which makes many project doable in terms of financing. MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, works with businesses, nonprofits, banks, and communities to stimulate economic growth. Through these collaborations we help create jobs, increase the number of housing units, revitalize urban environments, and address factors limiting economic growth including transportation, energy, and infrastructure deficiencies.
Like many municipalities in Massachusetts, Gardner has some blighted, distressed, or underutilized areas. Many of these sites contain abandoned or even contaminated structures/facilities, or just area which are broken-down and not economically viable. These areas decrease assessed property values, which results in a decrease in municipal revenue. At the same time, they pose a drain upon municipal services. Often, it is difficult to attract private investment to these areas – so a tax increment financing (“TIF”), which is a Smart Growth tool (law) of the State, is something that can bring these areas back on the grid, so to speak. The TIF is the difference between the beginning assessed value of the targeted property in its broken-down state and the assessed value going forward in time, as the planned improvements take shape. The whole thing should have its own discussion, but it is a good tool. Also, under state law, there are District Improvement Financing tools (“DIF”). Using DIF, the City can pledge all or a portion of tax increments to fund district improvements over time. A development district may be as small as one parcel or may comprise up to 25% of a town or city’s land. DIF and TIF provide opportunities to redevelop areas in ways which can lead to increased property values, increased tax revenue, improved infrastructure, enhanced transportation services, increased housing supply, new jobs and an overall improvement in quality of life for the inhabitants of the city or town. Specifically, a TIF provides a direct upfront benefit to a developer in the form of tax relief. The money saved on taxes helps pay the project’s construction costs. Depending on the size and location of the project, Developers utilizing TIF benefits can also often access other state financial incentives such as Investment Tax Credits, Abandoned Building Tax Deductions and Research and Development Tax Credits. DIF provides financial benefits to developers as well, by providing infrastructure and surrounding amenities to support their projects. Early public funding takes the initial burden off the developer and minimizes risk. I didn’t even get into PILOTs (Payments in Lieu of Taxes), which the City has used, especially as to the solar commercial businesses that have come into the City. We also need to look into the issue of some large 501(c)(3) “not-for-profit” organizations in this City that do not pay real estate taxes, like Heywood Hospital, for example – there are many. Many communities, like Brookline for example, have passed local legislation where these organization make voluntary payments instead of real estate taxes. It is a long subject for another day, but Gardner does not receive $1.4 million each year due to the fact that these “not for profits” do not pay real estate taxes. There are reasons why some will say that this is ok, but it is a discussion that a City like Gardner, building new schools and hurting for money, should be having.
4 What are your relevant experiences or education relating to economic development in action or in theory?
My experience in this regard is researching, deliberating and voting on every economic development project the City has entered into for that last 16 years that required City Council appropriation – and that is a lot. I would call that an “education,” but not in the way you mean. My educational background is in biology, pharmacology and law. Fifteen plus years of being a Councillor/lawmaker in the City in this regard gives a human some insight and puts context and judgment into the recipe.
5. What specific projects would you propose in my first term that would benefit long-term.
I have listed some of the projects I am interested in bringing to the City. As I have said, the new Mayor will have about 17 months to get things done if you are talking about the first term. In Government time, that is not much time. But, I believe that every project has long-term benefit. Every piece of growth is to grow the City into something better. In that sense, everything goes into the future of this City, and becomes part of its DNA.
6. Where do you see economic dev. Programs fitting in to long-term social health of city?
All other answers apply to this one. One long-term health-related project, as in physical health of our citizens, would be the Anaerobic Digestion project to address our Sludge Landfill issue. I’ve discussed this elsewhere in my answers, and in a long dissertation to Mr. Alan Rousseau – who submitted his own questions to the candidates, and are public.
7. Where do ED efforts intersect with other essential services in city.
See above answers. Also, it sounds oversimplified, but every aspect of City government affects every other aspect. We are a budget-challenged City, and every penny means something. We do not have extra. We often have to make do with what we have, and make things stretch. So, economic development is one way to help that situation – because the right plans and the right approaches can increase our tax base, and increase the revenue going into our Budget each year. Economic development and the school system go hand-in-hand. What I mean is that a good school system brings in business because good businesses know that their employees investigate the school system of any community where their new job is located (before they accept the job). Also, a good school system alone, by itself, brings in higher-income earners – who will move because our real estate taxes are relatively low compared to communities east of here. On the other hand, economic growth increases the health of the school system – because they increase the tax base, which means there is more money in the Budget to spend on the schools. It is a very symbiotic relationship.
8. Should we regionalize economic development efforts.
Honestly, I am not in favor of that right now. I am always open to it, and welcome all opportunity. But it seems like Gardner, being the largest community around, would somehow be left with the short stick in any regionalization of this type. Though it is a fact that certain legislation and economic realities may indeed lead us into such an arrangement in the future. Right now, it is something, I think, on the back burner.
I think on this subject is the one dealing with “Gateway Cities.” For a long time, we have been asking our State representatives to work on legislation that will include Gardner as a Mass. “Gateway City.” Gateway Cities are legally defined as cities with population of at least 35,000, median household income below the state median, and a lower percentage than the state average of adults with a college degree. Gardner meets all criteria except for population (we have about 21,000, a little less). Being deemed by the State to be a “Gateway City” guarantees additional state dollars, sometimes millions. The Gateway Cities Parks Program, for example, provided $1.2 million to Chicopee for the creation of Ridgewood Park and $2 million for the design of Chapman Playground and construction of the Columbia River Greenway. The Gateway Cities MassWorks grant program has funded $16 million in streetscape and business district redevelopment projects in Brockton, $11 million in improvements to Worcester’s airport, and $4.2 million for community college construction in Holyoke. So, the communities with strong State Representatives are successful in keeping Gardner out – they say things like “If you allow everybody in, it loses its effectiveness, its bite, it becomes like any other program.” See, they don’t want Gardner in because the pieces of pie for the piggies will get smaller. With a reason like that, some Bureaucrats keep all the money for the 26 cities that are “in,” and former factory cities like Gardner are kept “out.” Just like that. I have said that if you can show that you are a former factory town/city, and still have a certain amount of square feet of former industrial/factory space – you qualify. That is a good reason for the State to let a City like Gardner into the windfall that other cities just like, or better off than Gardner, get.
9. Given current events, how can building resiliency into our municipal systems be incorporated into an ED strategy?
See my answers above. Also, resiliency is a vague term. To me it requires insight. For instance, our old zoning philosophy is from a gone-by era of incompetence. We need smart growth, we need more of what is called a “form-based code.” Form-based codes are a method of development regulation, which should be adopted in Gardner, that emphasizes the physical character of development – its actual physical form and appearance. It promotes mixed use (picture the store front on street level, and residences above). It includes what we have now, which is old fashioned, incompetent regulation of land uses, but that is de-emphasized in form-based regulation. A form-based code focuses on how development relates to the context of the surrounding community, especially the relationships between buildings and the street, pedestrians and vehicles, and public and private spaces. The code addresses these concerns by regulating site design, circulation, and overall building form. So, the development looks nice, like a little village or center – just look up Mashpee Commons and Falmouth’s Davis Straights, and throughout the country. It is the way to go. This approach offers the community the means to create the physical development it wants and developers a clearer understanding of what the community seeks. Over time, these benefits can foster greater community acceptance of new development. Where conventional zoning isolated single-family homes from all other types of development. The development resulting from such zoning requirements often makes it difficult,
if not impossible, to walk from home to purchase a quart of milk. So, into the car we go – which is inefficient, does not promote physical movement (does promote laziness), and is not environmentally smart. All those dead-end cul de sacs, which make no sense, would be out the window for future development. The old fashioned planning regulation stripped the City of its “sense of place,” and the downtown walking-to-shop districts can come back to modern living (like you see in downtown Wellesley, Concord, Lexington, etc.).
The Committee to Elect Michael Nicholson
Gardner Mayoral Candidate
Responses to the Wachusett Business Incubator Print Debate
Submitted: Friday, April 10, 2020
1) Do you have an economic development plan to propose? What are its essential details?
My plan for economic development in the City focuses on four pillars – 1) targeting areas in the
City for future growth, 2) crafting a plan to ensure that our existing businesses have the resources
and support they need to continue to provide for the community, 3) educate our residents about
our existing business community, and 4) create avenues for constant public feedback to ensure
that we are proceeding in a direction that the public hopes to see us moving in.
The city has seen a lot of growth in its recent years, but there is still a lot more that we can do. I
would like to primarily focus my plan on the Downtown area, the industrial park, and the areas
outlined in our current urban renewal plans. In particular, I would like to target the one
remaining location we have open in Summit Industrial Park, the land at the corner of Main Street
and Baker Street across the street from the Police Headquarters, and the former Garbose site.
These areas of land have been on our radar in the city for quite some time, and are ripe for
redevelopment due to the growth that has been occurring in the areas around them. In the
industrial park, we have seen New England Peptide and Advanced Cable Ties both expand their
businesses. In the Garbose area we have seen Tractor Supply Co. open in Timpany Plaza and the
development of the Timpany Crossroads location just down the road. Downtown has seen blight
replaced by the Police Headquarters and Cumberland Farms, the construction and opening of
Rear Main Street, and the new utility work in the Downtown area allows us to be able to show
that we, as a City, are investing in the area as an example for developers to invest their resources
in the location with us.
Part of the way that the plan that I would propose if elected would target these areas for growth
would be to focus on the blighted areas to see how they can be converted from decaying to areas
full of promise. At my campaign kickoff, I announced my plan for the Greenwood Memorial
area. This plan involved the demolition of the existing structure and the revitalization of the area
with a new pavilion and waterfront walkway and rest area for people to enjoy. This is just one
example of how we can take a location that is quite literally falling in on itself and turn it into a
place where people want to visit and can enjoy their times with their families and friends. The
next step would also be to give our public safety, building and public health the support and tools
they need to be able to both promote the safety of our residents but also to help stop a property
from becoming a nuisance or hazard before it gets there.
As part of my overall economic development plan, I would also add the updating of our two
urban renewal plans and our open space and recreation plan, all of which will be expiring at the
end of this term of office. By getting the ball rolling on this, we can start to gather further input
as to where we should be targeting for future growth and how we can set the City up for success
over the next ten years. This would allow us to use the information gathered through these
processes as we work to market the City to outside businesses and development agencies.
In order to fully draft this plan, I would make sure that my administration obtains input from
organizations like the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce and Gardner Square Two who
work directly with our business community, to ensure their perspective is represented at the
table. However, I would also include organizations like the Gardner Community Action
Committee (“CAC”) who work for the social and emotional needs of the city. By including these
groups at the table, we can design a plan that works to promote our local economy while at the
same time providing for the needs of all of our residents in a way that benefits us all. This also
allows us to work with our local business community to make sure that they have the support
from the City to be successful.
The third pillar of the plan would be to educate the public as to what our business community
offers in the City. One of the misconceptions that I often hear around the City is “there’s nothing
here in Gardner.” In truth, we have a lot more than many other communities in the
Commonwealth. Not only do we have a college, hospital, ice rink, bike path, 18-hole golf course,
and miles of hiking trails, we also have a business community dealing with manufacturing,
biomedical engineering, finance, local retail, service organizations, health care, and so much
more. Not only do we need to market our City to businesses and people outside the city, we also
need to ensure that we are marketing to ourselves too. The only way a business can survive and
thrive is if the area’s residents act as their patrons and employees. By helping our residents
realize just how much we are lucky to have here, they may find new places to shop, see what job
opportunities we have available, and get a new sense of pride in the place that they live in.
In creating an economic development plan that promotes the city, acknowledges our existing
business community, educates our residents, and cares for the social, emotional, and mental
health of our residents, we can create a plan that shows we as a City truly care about who we are
and who works and lives here, and use that to bring others to the place we call home.
2) What do you see as a relevant timeframe for your plan?
The timeframe for my plan is set for a ten year cycle. Most economic development and urban
renewal plans are typically set for a ten year period, to allow for adequate planning,
implementation, and evaluation periods. We need to be able to make sure we have adequate time
in developing and finalizing the plan to make sure it will truly fit the community’s needs, but we
also need enough time after to make sure that we can evaluate how we are proceeding and if we
have to readjust any of the steps we are taking.
However, we should not wait until the ten year period is completed to evaluate what we have
accomplished and where we are going. One of the goals of having discussions with the different
stakeholders mentioned above would be to establish benchmarks that we would look to achieve
over the course of the ten year plan, to allow for feedback and review along the way.
3) What do you think is possible to accomplish in your first two year term?
Given the circumstances where the election was recently postponed (which I agree with
completely) to the point where the new mayor will not be starting until a third quarter of the two
year term will have already gone by, we do have to take a hard look at what we can actually be
able to accomplish over the course of the first term. Many officials at the state and local level
have recently raised concerns about revenue projections for the next fiscal year, which could
make certain initiatives that much harder to accomplish. However, there is still much we can
accomplish in the short time that will be left in the term. I think my first priority if elected would
be to implement programs in place that would help our local businesses who are being negatively
impacted by the current COVID-19 Pandemic. Once we can get our economy stabilized again
after the current crisis is over, we can move forward in our other areas of focus.
If elected, my goal would be to begin working with our stakeholder groups to renew our soon to
be expiring urban renewal and development plans, so that we can pinpoint exactly where we as a
city would like to see us going over the course of the next ten years.
I would also like to begin working with developers and interested parties to see how the City can
help to keep their projects moving, developing, and growing, even with the current situation we
4) How does your plan take advantage of existing regional, state and federal programs or incentives?
My economic development plan for the city takes advantage of existing regional, state, and
federal programs by focusing on areas of the city that fit the specifications for these projects and
using the steps of this plan to benefit the surrounding areas as well. Regional and state initiatives,
such as MassWorks and Block Grant funding and Federal Opportunity Zone assistance are often
focused on areas that are either marked as Urban Renewal areas, Low to Moderate Income
Census tracts, or are more densely populated. However, improvements to one area of the city
affect more than just that specific street. Things pour over and success spreads as improvements
get made. My plan takes advantage of these programs by focusing on the areas that would be
competitive to these funding sources and using them as growth spots to encourage improvements
to spread to the neighboring areas of the city around these spots.
5) What are your relevant experiences or education relating to economic development, in action and/or in theory?
I am very proud of my background in economic development, both through my education and
I have a Master’s Degree from the UMass School of Public Policy and Administration. While
working to obtain this degree, I focused my courses on economic development and downtown
revitalization. As part of this process, I took courses with Professor John Mullin and Henri
Renski, who had previously authored Gardner’s Urban Renewal and Economic Development
Plans. As such, a lot of my graduate education was focused on how to promote development in
locations similar to Gardner.
I also worked closely with the City’s Community and Economic Development departments
during my tenure as Mayor Hawke’s Executive Aide. In my role, I was able to participate in
discussions with developers and businesses that were looking to do work in the City. This
allowed me to see how the City has approached these matters with interested parties in the past
and observe what led to successful partnerships and what did not. I also worked to track how the
City was progressing on our Open Space and Recreation, Urban Renewal, and other initiative
plans that are used to help us attract people and businesses to the area to see how we have been
Then, in my current work as Town Administrator for the Town of Rutland, I serve as the
Town’s equivalent to the Mayor in a city. As such, a large part of my job is working with our
planning department on economic development measures to attract people to the Town. Since I
took on this position, two new businesses have opened and are in conversations with others
looking to settle in the Town. The Town is also currently marketing an 88-acre parcel of land
zoned for commercial and light industrial use that has been vacant for the past twenty years. Due
to new marketing and partnership strategies for the location that have been put into place since I
began in this role, we have had over seven different companies present proposals for large scale
development of the location.
I have also been a member of Gardner Square Two for several years, and have served on their
Board of Directors since 2017. Here, I can see and hear what our local businesses are going
through, the issues they are facing, and the ideas they present, giving me the perspective to truly
see what issues Gardner is facing.
6) What specific projects would you propose in your first term that you feel would benefit the city’s long-term economic development progress?
One of the projects that I would like to propose and implement during my first term is the
repurposing of Community Development Block Grant (“CDBG”) funding and program income
that the City receives to create a small business assistance program to help our local businesses
who have been negatively impacted by the current Covid-19 pandemic. The City receives these
funds from the Commonwealth annually for the purpose of promoting community and economic
development, which is exactly the purpose of this program – to ensure that our city’s economy
continues to grow and benefit our long term economic help. To implement this program, I would
work with our CDBG Steering Committee, the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce, and
Gardner Square Two (our local business association), to design a program that would truly
benefit as many of our local businesses as possible to help ensure that our City maintains a stable
economy during these times of trouble. Our locally owned and small businesses are the ones who
give to our community when it comes time for sponsoring sports teams, charities, events,
scholarships, and so much more. I cannot think of a better way I would like to start my term than
showing them that just like they are there for us when we need them, we are here for them.
Another project I’d like to propose is a collaboration with our community development officials
and our high school staff to revamp the existing internship program that students are able to
participate in. While speaking with our students over the course of the campaign, the one
sentiment I’ve heard is the complaint, “there’s nothing in Gardner related to what I want to do.”
Creating new partnerships with our schools and local businesses can really help our students see
just what we have to offer in the city from biomedical engineering, manufacturing, finance,
business, sports, healthcare, education, and so much more. The goal of this program would
eventually be to continue working with our students after they graduate to continue to provide
them with an avenue to work with our local partners as their work toward their eventual career
goals. In doing so, I would hope that our students see just how much we have to offer here in the
city and look to stay here rather than relocating to other areas for the jobs they are looking for.
Lastly, I would work with our economic development personnel to come up with new ways to
market the city. One of the last projects that I undertook when I was working in Mayor Hawke’s
office was to create new marketing commercials for the City. Working with the production
company, we were able to get these at no cost to the taxpayers, and now have five professional
videos that we can use to help attract new residents and businesses into the area to help promote
our overall economic health as we work toward the future.
7) Where do you see economic development programs or measures fit into the long-term social health of our city? Where do our efforts in ED intersect with other essential services in our city?
Economic development programs fit greatly into the long-term social health of our city.
Diversifying our economy and bringing in new businesses, while working to strengthen our
existing business community, helps create a place where people are happy and proud to call their
home. In recent years, we have seen millions of dollars in private sector funding invested in our
city- expansions at Advanced Cable Ties and New England Peptides, remodeling efforts and new
event ideas at Williams Restaurant and the Gardner Ale House, the construction and opening of
the 99 Restaurant and the future expansion of the Timpany Crossroads location. As a result,
families have new locations and options to go out together and spend time with each other, new
employment opportunities have been created, and people get excited to see what’s going on
around the City. Economic Development programs and measures help make us “Gardner” rather
than “that small city along Route 2” and help bring life to the community.
This intersects with our other city services in many ways. Economic development and our
school system go hand-in-hand. As families look to settle down somewhere, the two things they
look for are whether they can find jobs in the area and what type of education we can provide for
their children. A diverse economy allows a location to have an increased tax base to be able to
invest more funding into our schools to ensure our students and educators have the resources
they need to truly be successful.
This also relates to our recreation initiatives as well. Economic development is not just business
related. It’s providing a location with a healthy business community, a growing population, and
providing our residents with the amenities to allow them to enjoy their home. Over a third of the
City is currently in protected open space. We have miles of hiking trails, a bike trail, skate park,
sports fields, and have invested more in our playgrounds in the past few years than ever before in
the City’s history. Improving our recreational opportunities and locations for our residents not
only allows our residents a place to go to get away from the business and troubles of everyday
life, but also gives us a tool to help attract people to our area as well.
8) Should Gardner make a concerted effort to regionalize its economic development efforts? Under your administration, what would this look like?
Yes, I think Gardner should make an effort to regionalize certain economic development efforts.
The Commonwealth as a whole has seen large economic growth in recent years, but much of this
growth has taken place east of the I-495 belt where issues of congestion, high housing costs, and
overcrowding already exist. It is great for the state that Puma decided to move their offices into
Harvard Square and Amazon into the Boston Seaport, however, these locations are already
crowded with high traffic areas for workers to commute from places they can hardly afford to
Central Massachusetts communities should make a concerted effort to show what we have to
offer to new businesses that want to come to the state- open space, affordable housing, high
quality of living, and better commuting conditions. We can show these companies that the
advantages we have to offer provide their workers with better living situations and thus help their
Under my administration, I would work with the leaders of our neighboring communities,
regional tourism organizations- like the Johnny Appleseed Association, the Greater Gardner and
North Central Massachusetts Chambers of Commerce, and other partners at the state and local
level, with the goal of being able to produce an overall North Central Massachusetts Economic
Development Plan that benefits all our communities as much as possible.
9 ) Given current events, how can building resiliency into our municipal systems be incorporated into an economic development strategy?
Building resiliency is something that we should be looking at in all areas of the city, including
economic development. Given the current events, where many of our businesses have had to
either close or adapt their existing plans and strategies to fit the new regulations that have been
put in place, we should be working with our business community to find ways to help promote
them and ensure that they are able to recover from this situation.
In Rutland, when the closure of restaurants was announced, I created a new initiative to promote
take out options. When I started as Town Administrator, one of the first things I did was sit down
with our community partners and come up with resiliency plans so that when issues came up, we
knew how to handle them. Times like these require local leaders who think outside the box and
come up with realistic solutions for our future. Having these plans in place, so that we have
either initiatives to start or assistance programs planned out when we need them, allows us to be
prepared and keep moving forward without having to stand by and simply wait until things pass.
From the desk of Christine Johnson
At this point in time, regionalizing the Economic Development efforts is not something that I would look at doing immediately. The focus will be to bring business to Gardner to expand the tax base to lower taxes and bring jobs to the city.
The current situation with the pandemic will make bringing business to Gardner a challenge. Many companies are shut down and are not creating revenue which means those who were looking to expand 6 months ago may not be looking to expand now. The experts in the Economic Development Department will have the latitude to create and execute unique ways to bring Companies to our great city.
Economic Development and Growth Plan
My initial plan would start with a complete audit of the city books from an independent accountant. Then we could see what we have to work with. Unfortunately, it is unknown how long we will be affected by the COVID 19 pandemic and how much damage financially this will cause.
I would like to be working with the best investors in our area, people with pride in our city and the willingness to make the necessary changes. I will meet with the other city officials and see what worked for them and what did not.
I would also like to use one of our city owned properties to start an adult education trade school, where people can learn a good trade in a short amount of time. This could help give our citizens a way to be more successful, and give them a sense of pride and accomplishment. And in my experience once, people become successful they want to give back.
Also, I would like to see nice, affordable housing. A place where residents could be proud to live.
I am also looking into a city owned indoor sports facility with tutoring available, where high school kids could volunteer and earn scholarships for not only athletics, but academics as well.
I would like to see more of a residual income type of government. We need to stop running to the tax payers to pay for it all.
There are many more ideas.
This is not all built overnight. It is done with a willingness to work together as a team for our future.
In the unforeseen times we do not know where we will be getting our funding from. We will still have investors looking to make investments.
I believe we still are a great city. This was once a thriving city and I believe it can be again.
Please be safe and continue to listen to the professionals during this pandemic. Be safe.