Submitted by Sanford M Litvack, Greenwich Selectman
The First Selectman’s Feb 6 op-ed (joined in by the Chairman of his Economic Advisory Committee) touts the performance of the Economic Advisory Committee (EAC) and therefore begs at least two questions: (1) What has the EAC accomplished so far?; and (2) has the time come to finally face the fact that in the 21st century, economic development is a skill which requires the talent and experience necessary to develop a viable plan to attract new businesses and spearhead economic growth?
The answers are plain: The EAC has accomplished virtually nothing in terms of economic development. And, yes it is time to have qualified people develop and implement a professional economic development plan.
In assessing the performance of the EAC, it is useful first to recall its history. The Committee, which was formed in 2011 by the First Selectman, does not appear, from the public record, to have done anything (except sponsor a panel discussion in 2015), for the first five years of its existence. After wasting all that time, in 2016 it held its first meeting and since that time it has held more meetings and issued a number of press releases but with absolutely no measurable results. As we all know, the test of any undertaking is not meetings or press releases, but rather what has been accomplished. And in this case, the answer is nothing.
In the op-ed the First Selectman brags about a public relations campaign entitled “Think Greenwich,” which the EAC has sponsored. The op-ed claims the campaign “is more than a conventional PR effort” presumably because it has “an online social media” component.
But the truth is that every public relations effort in the 21st century has a “social media component.” That is neither unique nor important. What is important is what has this campaign produced? What new businesses have relocated or plan to relocated to Greenwich because of the campaign? The answer seems to be “none.”
What has it generated in terms of interest in the Town of Greenwich? Apparently precious little. While followers on Facebook do not often translate into new economic development, they are at least relevant to measure interest in the campaign. Yet on that score the results are, to be charitable, not very good. After six months there were less than 100 followers of “Think Greenwich” on Facebook. That is shockingly poor.
In any event, a public relations campaign, even if well done, is not an economic development plan. Nor is courting Chinese hedge funds an economic plan. In fact, our future economic growth is not likely to be in the hedge fund industry at all. The financial industry, including hedge funds, has served us well and we should continue to nurture and attract those businesses where possible, but a real economic plan does not focus on one business or one industry. It focuses on a broad program, looking across a range of businesses and opportunities to develop a thoughtful, considered and systematic way of insuring sustainable economic growth. That is what an economic plan looks like and that is what Greenwich does not currently have.
In fact, it is precisely this kind of thoughtful approach by people experienced in economic development that is missing from the current plan. A public relations campaign is nice but in the end the question the EAC and First Selectman have to answer, is, as the old Wendy’s ad put it, “Where’s the beef?” Under the current plan there is none and I am fairly confident there will be none. Therefore, it is time to stop spending money on this public relations campaign and instead to consider a different and more universally accepted approach.
These towns in Connecticut and elsewhere that have focused on economic development have done so, as I have advocated, by hiring an economic development professional to propose a serious plan, and to offer ways to streamline the regulatory and administrative processes in order to make the environment more business friendly. Now is the time for Greenwich to do that. With such a plan, we can move aggressively to contact new businesses, tell them of our assets and attract them to our Town. Marketing will be important but not until we have a real plan and have addressed the impediments to growth. Right now we have the cart before the horse and it is not surprising that the cart is not moving.