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Local Government Key to Spurring Economic Development, LVEDC Council Finds

By LVEDC Staff on May 20, 2014

You can’t overestimate how important local government is in producing a vibrant rLVEDC logo smallegional economy.

That was the gist of a night where some of the top local government leaders, economic developers and community members from the Lehigh Valley met at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem to discuss the role of local government plays in regional economic development.

The event, hosted on May 19th by LVEDC, began with a panel discussion that consisted of Joseph Zator of Zator Law Office, Mark Mulligan from VM Development Group, Mayor Edward Hozza of Whitehall Township and Don Cunningham of LVEDC. The goal of this event was straightforward: Discuss with local governments on how they can better work with developers to spur economic growth and foster cooperation between local governments, economic developers and community members.

The message was clear: If we do this together and do this right, there’s going to be more jobs and more revenue for everyone.

Moderator Jon Hammer, manager of South Whitehall Township, began the night with an introduction followed by a panel discussion where Mulligan provided those in attendance with how what makes an area appealing to developers.

“What is attractive to developers is when we see that local governments already have a plan, have identified their priority sites and in some cases have taken control of the sites that they eventually want developed,” Mulligan said.

Zator later added to Mulligan’s point that a developer’s biggest nightmare is when they are five years into the project and then get tied up in with something that could have been foreseen. In tennis they call that an “unforced error.” In real life it’s just called plain dumb. And too many mistakes get you a rep.

Mulligan smartly summed up his point by saying that the development process has to be a collaborative effort between local governments, the community and the developer.

“The local government has to recognize a sites potential, listen to the community for the needs and what this site could be, and then eventually a developer enters to make this dream a reality,” Mulligan noted. “A developer is only one piece of the puzzle.”

Hozza and Cunningham added interesting insight drawing from their political backgrounds. Hozza made the case that there are major differences between how city governments, borough governments and township governments operate and their restraints. A township such as Whitehall may have a smaller staff compared to a neighboring city. With more resources the local government can employ grant writers which can procure grants to provide better infrastructure and services for constitutes. Ideally it would be great to see the state respond to the infrastructure needs, but because of the elongated response, local governments in many cases end up footing the bill for infrastructure that will assist in spurring economic growth.

Cunningham pointed out that economic development in the Lehigh Valley is occurring at a quick pace but the infrastructure which is needed is not necessarily moving at a parallel speed.

Understanding the needs of the community, the position of the local governments and what developers are looking for is the first step in creating cooperation and growth.

“The most successful projects I have seen are when governments, developers and communities are all pulling together in a common direction,” Zator noted.

Mulligan, who is currently involved in developing the Simon Silk Mill in Easton, said he was most impressed because “when I came to the table I liked that it wasn’t just government officials and business people but there were artist and community members from all over Easton.”

At the conclusion of the presentation Hammer opened things up for questions and answers. One local official asked “what are the three things a township can do to begin to be more business friendly?”

Zator’s advice was to make sure that reviews/studies of potential projects are accurate the first time so that economic growth is not stalled by issues that should have been addressed. Mayor Hozza and Don Cunningham stated the importance of local government reputation and that it is vital for them to work together with developers to fast track or assist in overcoming barriers of positive development. Mark Mulligan a developer himself said that developing is hard enough as it is, so try to make it as painless as possible. Mulligan said that it is attractive when all the steps from point A to point Z are clearly defined and spelled out.

The end goal is not political goals or economic in and of itself, but instead what these goals and growth represent. Accomplishing these goals and growth means more opportunity and a better quality of life for all. And that’s something anyone can behind.

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