By Julie Huss
---- — It’s the tale of two towns when it comes to economic growth.
Londonderry is banking on new ways to handle planning and economic development, while Derry often struggles with the best solution for bringing business in and keeping it there.
Londonderry’s Planning and Economic Development Department recently streamlined its way of doing business following the resignation in October of planning leader Andre Garon.
Following Garon’s departure, the department’s three remaining staff members gathered under a reorganized plan, giving town planner Cynthia May a top spot with GIS manager John Vogl and special projects assistant Jaye Trottier rounding out the planning trio.
In addition, Londonderry will use contracted services for economic development work, including the newly hired Concord-based Arnett Development Group.
That could save the town money.
“We expect the costs to be lower than the cost of a full-time employee,” Londonderry acting Town Manager Bill Hart said. “It could be significantly lower depending on the projects we have.”
Derry has its own history with Arnett, hiring the group in 2009 to also oversee economic development.
Arnett focused on Derry’s Manchester Road near the new Wal-Mart store as a spot ripe for development. The downtown also topped the list.
The town set aside $75,000 to cover Arnett’s contract and other economic development goals, including the start of the farmers market.
After renewing its contract with Arnett three times, Derry cut its ties in 2011.
Then they hired Cedar Point Communications founder George Kassas to advise town officials on economic development. Derry suspended that relationship the following year due in part to state laws rendering it difficult for the town to put Kassas’ plans for incubator business investment funds into place.
How to move on is now up for discussion. With three new faces on the Town Council, some think too much money is being spent — with few results.
During recent budget reviews, Derry councilors voted to cut $20,000 from the economic development budget for fiscal year 2014, from $50,000 down to $30,000.
“There doesn’t seem to be any direction,” Town Councilor Tom Cardon said. “We do the same things over and over, and make the same mistakes over and over again.”
Cardon originally wanted to cut the entire economic development budget.
But Town Councilor Neil Wetherbee said the funding needs to be there.
“Cutting money isn’t a solution,” he said. “If you don’t fund money into economic development, you will have no economic development.”
Councilor Brad Benson said the town has tried many approaches in past years. The solution is still in question.
“We haven’t had a great economic development plan,” Benson said. “We’ve tried things, but you have to have a placeholder in your budget so we can put together a plan the majority of the council will endorse.”
Councilor Al Dimmock said he’s tired of seeing all the empty storefronts on Broadway and wants something concrete to happen.
“Money was spent downtown and it didn’t do a thing for us. Nothing is working,” he said. “The town has a history of failure on economic development. We need to find a way.”