Town Hall

Selectmen Weigh Pros and Cons of an EDSAT

The following is a recap from the Westford Board of Selectmen meeting for Sept. 16, 2014. For other parts of the meeting, click here.

For video of the meeting, head to westfordcat.org

7:59 p.m. – The Board then went to its 8 p.m. agenda item, a request from the Economic Development Committee (EDC) to participate in an Economic Development Self-Assessment Tool (EDSAT) program.

EDC Chairman Tom Barry said that his committee has been busy with a variety of projects, and that an EDSAT would give valuable insights into Westford as a town.

He said there are 525,000 square feet in Tech Park West and several buildings in Tech Park East, such as the old IBM building.

Barry said that an EDSAT would also help draw businesses come to Westford.

EDC member Ron Caterino said that approximately 70 communities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire have engaged in EDSATs.

He said that Dracut has just started theirs, and Tewksbury just finished theirs.

There is a lot that goes into an EDSAT, but Caterino said it helps determine how Westford ranks compared to its competition in luring companies.

He mentioned several other communities that have done it, and that Westford is lacking on information how it stacks up against its competition.

Caterino then talked more about what goes into an EDSAT and about the EDC’s objectives for the next 12 months, which might have to change if there is an EDSAT.

In other towns that have done EDSATs, Caterino said the key of its value was implementing recommendations from the EDSAT.

An EDSAT costs $4,500. Some towns subsidize it, others get money from local businesses. Peraner-Sweet said that would be a conflict of interest.

Caterino then said that the money would be coming from the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, pending an upcoming grant.

Siriani said he was pleased to hear about the proposed EDSAT, saying that they are great tools and was surprised when he heard it was less than $5,000. If even just a few jobs come from the EDSAT, Siriani said that would more than pay for the EDSAT’s cost.

Hazelton said it was a good idea and asked how long it takes to put together.

Caterino said that it could begin in January now that the money had been gathered and it would take four months with a team.

Prior to the NMCOG money, it would have been expected for 2016.

Hazelton asked how it works, Caterino said that there are over 200 questions in the survey. Some are easy to answer, others take some digging.

Caterino also talked about the process for finding the data, which would be similar in some ways to the EDC’s small business permitting guide.

Jodi Ross said that later in the meeting, there would be a discussion of goals and if the Selectmen are behind this, they should make it a goal since it requires a significant amount of staff time.

Peraner-Sweet said she supports it in principle, but due to the time needed from town staff, it should be discussed during the determination of the Selectmen’s yearly goals on Sept. 30.

She was also concerned what would be done with the EDSAT and how it could be used.

Barry said that he had gotten support from town staff on the permitting guide and more help would be needed for the EDSAT, and that Barry Bluestone would help initially.

Kelly Ross asked what departments would be needed in the process, and Jodi Ross said that she would see if a broader analysis of what resources would be needed.

Jodi Ross said she was behind it as long as the selectmen realized the amount of resources needed in the process.

Siriani then agreed that the EDSAT sitting on a shelf does no good and asked if any other analysis reports have undertaken in recent years.

Barry said no, as the EDC was fairly new.

Jodi Ross said that there had been some maps and documents, but nothing like this.

Siriani then talked about another group with similar data from UMass, and Caterino also mentioned a group at Fitchburg State, noting that much of the work needed for the EDSAT has already been done.

Siriani said he would appreciate it if he were a business and he saw the town doing this process.

Hazelton said that one of the objectives should find what can help us build the town’s strengths since without knowledge of those strengths, the invariable talking point is low taxes.

Jodi Ross and Peraner-Sweet had more comments before the item was continued to the Sept. 30 meeting.