Gina-Louise Sciarra: All voices needed to understand Northampton’s economy 

Published: 4/19/2016 8:44:31 AM

 

There is no question that Northampton faces challenges to maintain our thriving downtowns in a time of constant change. And everyone has their own experience and perspective to share about the downtown economy.

That is why the City Council has begun a process to solicit a wide range of community input from workers, business owners, property owners and residents.

On March 3, the City Council Committee on Community Resources, one of the recently reorganized City Council subcommittees and on which I serve as chair, received a committee study request from City Council President Bill Dwight and Vice President Ryan O’Donnell.

The request is to “study issues relative to the local economy, with a focus on businesses and workers in downtown Northampton and downtown Florence, for the purpose of identifying practical recommendations, if any, that the City Council could pursue to strengthen the local economy.”

To address this request, the committee is gathering current data from within the city administration and from outside organizations.

A series of public forums will be held to solicit testimony from stakeholders and residents representing all facets of Northampton’s economy on the pressures they feel, issues they experience and their recommendations, what they think Northampton does uniquely well, and how that can be supported.

Following these forums, the committee will compile this information into a report for the full City Council, and consider if there are recommendations of areas where the council could take action.

At our initial March 21 meeting we heard reports from the city’s economic development director, the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center and the University of Massachusetts Amherst Labor Center.

There has been a lot of media coverage and reaction to the data we received at that meeting. Some people have expressed concern that the committee would act after hearing only one perspective. Some have offered their own interpretation of the data. Some, including the Gazette editorial board, have begun offering policy recommendations.

While I am encouraged that there is such interest in the study, I want to make sure that the larger purpose is not lost or misunderstood in the enthusiasm. The point of the committee study request is to explore many different perspectives. The goal is to look at the pieces individually, but also examine where they interconnect, in the hope of seeing a bigger picture.

At this early point, the committee has heard from labor representatives, but from few workers. We have heard statistics and opinions from the Chamber, but from few business owners. We have heard from our economic development director about downtown property, but from few property owners.

As we move forward and hold forums to hear directly from the people living our economy day-to-day, I hope the committee can rely on those who are already expressing their opinions, as well as encourage others to come and contribute needed testimony.

Anyone is welcome to attend and participate at any of the dates, but the discussion of each forum will be centered around a certain sector of the economy. The forums will be held in the City Council Chambers at 212 Main St. The dates and topics for each forum are as follows:

May 16, 5:30 p.m.: Business owners;

June 20, 5:30 p.m.: Downtown workers and residents;

June 27, 1 p.m.: Downtown workers (scheduled to accommodate those who work evenings);

July 18, 5:30 p.m.: Property owners, property leasing and tourism.

All who are interested can follow the committee schedule, review the material the committee has received to date and find video of previous meetings by accessing the City Council section of the NorthamptonMA.gov website and clicking the “Committee Study Requests” link.

If you are not able to attend a forum, you may contribute written testimony by submitting it to the City Council Administrative Assistant Pamela Powers at ppowers@northamptonma.gov.

We look forward to hearing from many of you and fostering a rich dialogue about our city’s economic future.

City Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra is chair of the City Council Committee on Community Resources.




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