Economic Development Issues

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The following was published in the Salem Evening News Wednesday, September 22, 1999.


To the Editor

Recent articles and letters to the Editor in the Salem Evening News might lead one to conclude that the greatest political sin one can commit in Salem is to be "Against Economic Development."

Citizens who raise questions about the parts of the Salem Harbor Plan which recommend questionable treatment of dredged materials and building piers with potential negative industrial uses are told they are "Against Progress in Salem." Residents and Board officials who venture to suggest improvements in a development project must submit to lectures from developer's attorneys (and an occasional City Councilor) about their "Anti-Business" attitude. Neighbors who oppose granting zoning variances that allow an Osco Drugstore to be built in their back yard are ignored because "the City needs Economic Development."

I think the time has come to have a discussion about what we mean by Economic Development in the City of Salem. I would argue that to be in favor of protecting our unique urban and natural assets is not to be Against Economic Development. To the contrary, demanding development which is compatible with the City's greatest strengths may be the smartest way to ensure an economically healthy city.

Here's why. In the last few decades, economic growth in Massachusetts has been in the service and higher tech industries with continually declining industrial and manufacturing jobs. This growing part of the economy relies upon skilled and educated labor. One of conclusions of a recent economic study by Mass, Inc. was that a major constraint to companies growing faster in Massachusetts is the limited size of the labor pool. In a national service and technological economy, one of the competitive advantages in attracting the employees which employers need is offering a higher quality of life.

Thus, focussing on improving quality of life for residents is also a sound strategy for business development. As an example, according to reports, in Portsmouth, NH, businesses use the City's quality of life to attract employees, in turn making the City an attractive place to locate a business. Thus, Salem's best long term strategy for "economic development" may be to focus on improving the quality of life for its residents in order to attract the labor force which employers need. When City officials and developers tell Salem residents that they should sacrifice their quality of life for the sake of dubious Economic Development, the city is going down the wrong path.

Over the next few years, development of the last remaining former industrial parcels in the City of Salem will take place. The nature and type of this development will have a lasting effect on Salem's health for decades to come. I believe that each development should be judged on whether or not it contributes to the quality of life of the people who live here. If not, it should be rejected or improved.

In this important political summer the residents of Salem should ask aspirants to political office to define exactly what their Pro-Economic Development position means. If it means turning the heart of the City into a suburban strip mall and filling our harbor with oil tankers, I, for one, can live without it.




Barbara A. Cleary

104 Federal Street

Salem, MA 01970


August 3, 1999

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