May 1 2019

Proposed New Position of Economic Development Director on Town Meeting Warrant

By: Rich Hosford

The town of Burlington may soon have a new employee that would act as the face of government to the business community.

Town Meeting will vote during the Annual Town Meeting in May on a proposal for a new Economic Development Director position. The article was put in the warrant by the Board of Selectmen at the request of Town Administrator Paul Sagarino.

“This is not an original idea to me, it’s something that been talked about for a long time,” Sagarino said in an interview with BNEWS. “It was identified in the Master Plan as something very important for the future of Burlington.”

According to backup material for the Town Meeting Warrant, the town’s Comprehensive Master Plan states that in order to remain a vibrant commercial hub it will need to prioritize economic development initiatives. The material says that an Economic Development Director would help meet these six recommendations listed in the Master Plan:

- Support the ability of Burlington’s enterprises and institutions to adapt to change market and service conditions and maintain Burlington’s status as a regional leader in the commercial, retail and health sectors.

- Promote town-oriented business that provide services, employment, and market opportunities for small enterprises.

- Encourage new investment in targeted areas of Burlington.

- Support a high quality of life for the workforce in Burlington so that it is increasingly competitive in attracting and retaining the human resources vital to economic success

- Provide conditions to support market entry and incubation of new businesses.

- Promote locally-available education and training programs that serve businesses, institutions, and the workforce in Burlington.

The roles and responsibilities of the position are not “set in stone” to allow the position to grow and adapt, according to the backup material. The person will “serve as the main point of contact for businesses, developers, property owners, and real estate professional in town.” They will also help businesses navigate their way through the town’s various processes and board necessary for approval.

Sagarino said this will make businesses be more inclined to come to town because currently there is no such help for applicants and the process can be daunting.

“We’re looking for a face of the community that when a business wants to come to town they’ll act as a quarterback and coordinate the different departments,” he said. “What we hope to provide is someone that will help them determine quickly whether or not they’d be a good fit for Burlington and navigate some of the landmines that may be out there in advance.

Sagarino also thinks having someone to tell a potential business that they will not likely get a zoning change or special permit right off the bat would be helpful to both the town and the businesses.

“Even giving a company a quick ‘no’ would be very good for our reputation rather than having somebody go through a six month process and get to the end of the road to find out it’s something the community is not interested in,” he explained.

Finally, the reason for the position other than making it easier for businesses is to position the town to attract the types of businesses it wants and to keep them. That, he said, is getting more difficult as other towns in the area are getting more competitive in attempting to attract businesses into their town and therefor into their tax base. For example, Bedford, Lexington, Arlington, Billerica, Concord and Reading all have a person in this role or something similar.

“We have got by for many years by just being Burlington and having a great location but times have changed and it’s gotten more competitive and other communities are actively trying to take our businesses from us,” he said. “We’re hopeful that Town Meeting will approve this position and help us maintain our competitive edge when we’re trying to attract businesses.”

The Board of Selectmen voted 5-0-0 to recommend the warrant article’s passage. The board’s newest member, Nick Priest, said he has long thought it was a great idea.  

“Like I said this is a great idea and hope Town Meeting thinks so as well,” he said. “I think that moving forward the opportunity we’ll to have with this role filled to curate businesses in town will be crucial.”

No exact salary has been decided but Sagarino said there is a range depending on the experience of the candidate chosen if this article is passed. That range is from around $80,000 for someone up and coming to slightly above $100,000 for someone with more experience.


 

 
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