Wilmington’s New Economic Development Committee To Proactively Market Town As Attractive Destination For Businesses

WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington’s new Economic Development Committee is holding its third meeting this Wednesday, September 25, 2019.

The Committee’s Chair — Mike Champoux — was recently interviewed by WCTV Executive Director Shaun Neville for the station’s newest show, “Discourse.” A summary of Champoux’s interview is below.

What is the purpose of the Economic Development Committee?

When I was a member of the Board of Selectmen, I felt that a number of our surrounding communities had started to form the basis of an economic development committee or had someone on staff in Town Hall as a director of or manager of economic development. As I started to interact with my then colleagues from other communities, it became clear that they were putting themselves out to the business community to be more inviting and proactive, selling the town and the merits of the town to some would-be businesses. Wilmington was not doing actively doing that. That role was falling on the Planning Office, but the Planning Office is busy with Planning.

I had been arguing with some of my fellow Selectmen that we needed to come up with something along the lines of an Economic Development Committee. Over time, I’m glad to say the existing Board of Selectmen say fit to create the Committee.

The Committee will be the proactive “marketing engine” of the town to the business community, more so the potential business community, rather than the existing business community. We don’t want to step on the feet of the Chamber of Commerce. We want to complement their messages. We want to go to the larger business community and make those enterprises aware of all the merits that Wilmington has

How will the Committee find businesses not in Wilmington and explain to them why they’d want to come to Wilmington? Are there specific businesses the Committee will be looking at? Are you formulating a plan for what might be good fits for certain parts of town?

The questions you ask are all valid and good questions. Those are some of the questions that the committee is beginning to ask of itself.  We don’t have a specific plan yet. We’ve had 2 meetings so far. We’re now starting to put some structure into what the plans will be. I joked a few times that there’s a Herculean amount of stuff that we can pursue, but we’re volunteers who meet once a month, so it’s going to be difficult to get tremendous momentum. As a committee, we’re going to focus on a target-specific areas that we think we can take a bite out of.

Will the Committee be looking at zoning and taxing issues to perhaps make Wilmington more conducive to businesses? 

Here is the Committee’s mission statement:

The Wilmington Economic Development Committee’s (WEDC) mission is to be the proactive arm of the Town of Wilmington to the business community. We seek to collaborate with residents, property owners and businesses to help promote an atmosphere conducive to smart economic growth, by thoughtfully identifying and targeting key business sectors that compliment the fabric our community, are beneficial to the residents, and create jobs.

The Wilmington Economic Development Committee (WEDC) will serve as an advisory board and liaison between businesses and municipal government providing recommendations for planning and permitting processes that best serve the business and resident communities, while being consistent with the town’s master plan and being respectful of environmental and traffic considerations.”

We can conceive of and come up with plans, and make those recommendations to the Town Manager and Board of Selectmen, but it’s ultimately up to them to enact or adopt whatever recommendations come through.

Who is on the Committee and how was it put together?

The Town Manager amassed some folks from around the community that he felt would be appropriate to be on the Committee. Through more collaboration with the Board of Selectmen, it was agreed that each member of the Board would have an appointee. The Town Manager put forward 6 members, including one member of the Board of Selectmen — Chair Greg Bendel. Then each member of the Board put forth their own, so we’re now at 11. That’s a big committee — a lot of voices is great, but it’s sometimes challenging to stay on track.

We have people on the committee that have young children and involved in activities. We have a representative that works from Analog Devices. Valerie Gingrich, our Director of Planning and Conservation, is a voting member on the board. Suzanne Sullivan, a former Selectwoman and active community member, is there. Small business owner Dan Gibbons owns the hardware store at the Plaza. The rationale was to have a diverse collection of individuals with varying levels of expertise and experience.

Do you feel Wilmington is competing with its neighboring communities when it comes to Economic Development? 

I hate to say it’s competitive, but it is. Tewksbury is our partner. They’re our sister city to our North. But they’ve been active in this role for awhile. I know Reading has been. Woburn and Billerica have Directors of Economic Development. They’re already out there and have taken the steps of marketing and proactivity. Now Wilmington will be too. If you’re a large pharmaceutical business and you’re looking to establish a campus outside of the city, you’re going to look at those communities that are woo’ing you. In the absence of hearing from Wilmington, they’re probably going to find somewhere else. My hope is as businesses are looking for a place to set up, they will hear from us at the same time as they’re hearing from other communities. 

If residents have economic development ideas, is there some way they can be involved without having to serve on this committee? 

The Committee typically meets at Town Hall. We don’t have a regimented schedule. Our next meeting is this Wednesday, September 25, 2019 at 7pm in Room 9. The meeting is open to the public. Residents can also send an email to the Committee at at wedc@wilmington-ma.gov. We certainly always welcome input and ideas.

I want to be clear that we are not going to necessarily knock on the door of Wegmans or Whole Foods and say ‘Hey, come to Wilmington.’ We may make overtures and create an environment that’s conducive to those positive kind of businesses. But we can’t cherry pick certain businesses. We are still a free market society. As businesses come to Wilmington, if their business meets the zoning, there’s very little we can do as an Economic Development Committee to control that. However, we hope to make the town attractive to the kind of businesses the residents are looking for.

In addition to posting agendas, minutes and announcements on the Committee’s website,  I expect we’ll be making a presentation at the beginning of next year’s Annual Town Meeting.

Watch the 15-minute interview below:

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