Gloucester development: strengths, needs

ARIANNA MACNEILL/Staff photoNortheastern University economist Barry Bluestone speaks Thursday at the Gloucester campus of Endicott College.

As far as city websites go, Gloucester’s fails — at least according to one Northeastern professor and economist.

There are many things that the city is doing right — and many it can also work on — in terms of promoting economic development. But one of those fixes that’s crucial is revamping the city’s website, Barry Bluestone, a professor at Northeastern University and noted economist told city officials and business leaders Thursday morning.

Bluestone visited Gloucester to go through his Economic Development Self Assessment Test — or EDSAT — with city officials and community members and to revisit the answers given on it a year ago.

The survey — 220 questions total — asks about everything from permitting to residents’ levels of education and other matters essential to economic development and attracting industry to the city. 

The results are instantly tabulated by computer, but Bluestone said he plans to return to Gloucester in about a month to deliver them. Rockport had the results of a similar survey of that town revealed last week.

Around 50 city officials and community members gathered in one of Endicott College’s conference rooms at its Commercial Street location. 

Included were Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, Chief Administrative Officer Jim Destino, City Council President Paul McGeary, Councilors Paul Lundberg, Bill Fonvielle and Greg Verga; Economic Development Director Sal DiStefano, Chamber Executive Director Ken Riehl, local developer Mac Bell, and Thomas Gillett, the executive director of the Gloucester Economic Development and Industrialization Corporation.

Along with reviewing the survey, Bluestone told city officials that economic development marketing and timeliness of approvals — such as for building permits — are a very important element.

Website woes

While Romeo Theken said the city is working on a full city website overhaul, Bluestone said Gloucester’s current one doesn’t measure up.

“Your website is one of the worst I’ve seen in Massachusetts,” he said, noting that it was difficult to find a phone number for the mayor’s office or those of elected officials, along with other information representatives from businesses looking to come to Gloucester may look for.

Gloucester doesn’t currently have a dedicated webmaster — the answer to one of the survey questions — though city departments do make contributions to the site.

This could change soon, however, since Romeo Theken said via email after the meeting that her administration is hoping to hire a web specialist who could build a new site. Making it “user friendly” and having the ability to easily “connect (to) other links” were a couple of priorities she mentioned.

She did not provide a timeline for the project.

Other survey matters

The survey reviewed other aspects of life in Gloucester.

City officials filled in that as far as education goes, around 85 percent of high school students graduate and between 11 and 20 percent have a bachelor’s degree, though this number could be higher and needs to be firmed up.

City officials also said they maintain relationships with commercial real estate brokers, and they help businesses through permitting at the state level.

Proximity to Logan International Airport and obvious water transportation access were also some positives for the city.

In the quality of life category, officials filled in that the city doesn’t have a major concert hall or professional sports team.

“Does the greasy pole count?” Gillett asked with a laugh, referring to the contest during the annual St. Peter’s Fiesta.

Results

When Bluestone returns in a few weeks, Gloucester’s answers to the survey question answers will be compared to those of other municipalities.

But the discussion Thursday morning seemed to get officials thinking about what can be done to improve Gloucester’s economic development attractiveness as well as letting them see what’s already being done.

“Even though we haven’t given your results yet, you’ve already made major progress just here,” Bluestone said.

Along with the results, he said he’ll talk about improvements, including steps that can be taken that will have a “reasonable expense.”

“We’ll continue working with you as long as you don’t throw us out of town,” he said.

Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-675-2710 or at amacneill@gloucestertimes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GDTArianna. 

 

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