By Anne O’Connor
PEPPERELL — When it comes to forging a partnership between town government and local business, “We’re really putting the full-court press on,” said Town Administrator Mark Andrews.
The work is paying off. Pepperell earned an A- using a self-assessment tool developed by Barry Bluestone, the founding director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and founding dean of the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University.
Most communities start out with a C+, Andrews said.
“This was a great opportunity to understand our connection to the business community and to use that to our highest advantage,” Andrews said. “As we progress, this will be a good guidepost.”
Two meetings held in September and December each drew 45 to 50 representatives of the business community, the schools and the government to meet with Bluestone and Senior Research Associate Catherine Tumber.
A 250-question survey covered topics that new or expanding businesses would consider when looking for a location.
Pepperell excelled in two important ways, the assessment found. Both topics were included in the selectmen’s goals for the town administrator, Andrews said.
The town got a topnotch grade for the website, he said. It is the first line of contact for people looking to locate in the area.
The strong connection between the Pepperell Business Association and the town government is a “top building block for the town,” Andrews said. He is on the Board of Directors and the selectmen attend meetings.
The study identified a needed improvement to attract business development.
Permitting could be better. “We’ve got to strengthen that part of the town’s operation,” Andrews said. Getting information back to businesses quickly will affect its expansion or decision to come to town.
The study will serve as an internal guidepost to help the town decide which grants to look for, Andrews said. For example, improvements to roadways, lighting and sidewalks will make new businesses feel like the town is investing in their space, he said.
The study was paid for by a $5,000 grant from the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments under the District Local Technical Assistance program to conduct a self-assessment of the community’s economic development efforts in comparison with other communities nationwide.
The ten assessment categories include:
1. Access to customers/markets.
2. Concentration of businesses and services.
3. Real estate and infrastructure.
4. Labor market factors.
5. Municipal permit processes.
6. Community quality of life.
7. Site related amenities.
8. Business incentives.
9. Local tax rates.
10. Access to local information.
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