WILMINGTON, MA — During last week’s Board of Selectmen Meeting, Selectman Chair Mike Champoux called for the creation of a town economic development committee, as a new measure to attract new businesses to Wilmington.
“[Wilmington] doesn’t really have a strategic, proactive philosophy or practice of making ourselves known to, or “wooing,” large businesses, despite having so much to offer,” said Champoux. “We, as a community, should be putting our best foot forward.”
Champoux pointed to neighboring communities — including Billerica, Burlington and Tewksbury — that have established successful economic development committees. He also highlighted the Middlesex 3 Coalition, a regional organization across nine nearby communities focused on development along Route 3.
“These communities have seen the merits of the kind of things I’m discussing and have taken action. I think it’s time Wilmington gets on board,” stressed Champoux. “Businesses looking for places to set up shop are already engaging in conversations with the towns that are being proactive and approaching them. If Wilmington is just waiting and hoping that businesses will come talk to us, I’m afraid we’re going to be left behind.”
Champoux is aware of the social media discussions that often occur where a business in town closes and residents ask why Wilmington can’t fill the vacant building with a highly desirable replacement, like a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s.
“The notion [in those Facebook discussions] is that the town is going out and talking to these companies, trying to entice them to come to town, but that isn’t really what’s going on,” clarified Champoux.
“Let’s fill Sonic. Let’s fill Chili’s,” said Champoux, who also wants to see the town attract new large businesses in its industrial zoned areas, like Ballardvale Street. The town’s geographic location — and with 38, 62, 129 and four highway exits — makes it a business-friendly destination for companies that want to be close, but not too close, to Boston.
Champoux stressed that a stronger commercial and industrial base will benefit taxpayers’ pocketbooks.
“Our residential tax bills can be reduced, or largely mitigated, when we have a very strong commercial and industrial base,” said Champoux. “[Economic development] will lessen the burden that the residents have to take on… when it comes to the tax levy.”
Champoux highlighted several other benefits of local economic development, including more job opportunities for Wilmington residents, plus increased grant opportunities and charitable giving within the community.
Champoux would like to see an economic development committee — consisting of, but not limited to, members of the Board Selectmen, Finance Committee, and Town Planning Department — to create a strategic plan to “go to market” and recruit large companies to town.
Selectmen seemed to welcome his suggestion.
“I’m for any way we can help attract businesses to Wilmington and help out the taxpayers,” said Selectman Greg Bendel. “I look forward to hearing more about the [committee].”
“I would volunteer to be a part of the committee,” responded Selectman Ed Loud.
Selectman Mike McCoy noted he’s looking for the “right kind” of economic development. He points to Tewksbury, whose residents are referring to their town as “Condo City” after economic development led to the proliferation of condos along Route 38. “There’s a big difference between Main Street in Wilmington and Main Street in Tewksbury.”
Town Manager Jeff Hull acknowledged that the town is not currently soliciting businesses to the extent Champoux is recommending. He noted, however, that the Town’s Planning Department staff and Town Engineer are always helpful to prospective businesses when they make inquires.
Hull sounded supportive of Champoux’s idea, but also offered a word of caution.
“Just because Wilmington happens to have four exits off of Route 93 and is approximate to Boston and its resources and universities, we can’t assume it’s going to lead us to bigger and better things,” agreed Hull. “We need to be participants in the game, competing for these businesses and jobs.”
“We need, however, to be mindful of identifying locations [in town] where people would be inclined to support redevelopment,” said Hull, who noted that North Wilmington residents, for example, were against any redevelopment of property in the Jefferson Road area based on a 2016 neighborhood forum hosted by the Planning Director.
In addition to Champoux’s recommendation to create a town economic development committee, Selectmen offered additional suggestions to Town Manager Jeff Hull as he begins preparing the town’s FY19 budget:
- Selectman Greg Bendel would like the town to continue its fiscally conservative approach. (Each of his colleagues agreed with this point.) Bendel would also like to see the town place an emphasis on maintaining its roads, sidewalks, and bridges.
- Selectman Kevin Caira would like to ensure that residential properties aren’t being over-assessed.
- Selectman Mike McCoy would like to ensure that commercial and industrial properties aren’t being under-assessed.
- Selectman Ed Loud would like the town to continue to be proactive in addressing its pension liabilities.
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