Growth Study Committee pushes for economic development office

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Members of the Hopkinton Growth Study Committee propose creating an economic development office within the town to bring in new economic opportunities and work closely with the business community.

This proposed post would initially be a one-year contract position within the town manager’s office, committee chair Fin Perry said. The salary would be $70,000 per year, with two $10,000 bonus opportunities.

This position could potentially convert to a full-time post with a full benefit package if successfully reviewed by the town manager, he said.

This is strictly a proposal, Perry said, with its future to be determined potentially by town officials and residents.

By supporting businesses and encouraging new growth, “The argument would be that the office would pay for itself,” Perry said, by bringing in new growth and preventing “a significant loss of tax revenue when businesses leave, close, or downsize.”

The individual hired would essentially “be the sales and marketing department for the town of Hopkinton,” according to a proposal developed by the committee.

The position would assist the business community in official dealings with community boards, committees and permitting authorities.

A key aspect of the post would be to “establish regular outreach and connection with Hopkinton’s business, industrial, and commercial citizens,” the proposal states.

Committee members also want the person to “develop collaborative relationships with area-wide business development entities, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the 495/MetroWest Partnership, the Massachusetts Office of Business Development and the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.”

This position would be especially important in response to the COVID-19 health crisis, when needs for office space are changing as people work from home rather than come into an office building, the committee said.

“Hopkinton needs to be poised to react and attract new businesses to fill the gaps when existing businesses reduce their physical footprints,” committee members wrote.

“During these times of pandemic many residents are struggling financially and cannot afford to take on much more of the tax burden if too many businesses leave and are not replaced promptly with others,” the proposal reads.

Hiring the right person who is a “go-getter” and aims to make the bonuses could highlight the potential effectiveness of the job, Perry said. The idea was to have a one-year person to start “rather than burden the town with a full-time position,” he said.

The individual could “do enough to impress the town manager,” who could renew the contract and possibly expand the economic development office, Perry said.

This is not the first time such a position has been conceived, but previous proposals were pulled from Town Meeting consideration because of financial concerns, he said.

The Growth Study Committee was formed about a year ago to proactively manage growth, enable better planning for town services, and identify parcels or zones that may have a significant impact of future growth patterns to ensure continued use in the best interest of the town.

Hopkinton currently is 84 percent residential and 16 percent industrial/commercial. The town “needs to pay attention” to and support the commercial base, Perry said.

The town is “a great place to live,” he said. Hopkinton consistently is rated as having one of the state’s best school systems and among the safest places to live in the country.

But the tax burden has been challenging for some, who feel like they are being “forced out of town” by high costs, Perry said.

The town’s ratio of 84 percent residential and 16 percent commercial/industrial can’t be changed, Perry said. But the ratio should be maintained, he said, to “balance growth with income.”

By developing the best strategies for how and where to develop, he said, “You get to keep the town you want to have.”

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