Cape Business Leaders Advise Governor on Economic Development

CCB MEDIA PHOTO Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, speaks during a break-out session focused on housing during Governor Baker's roundtable discussion on economic development. The Cape's session took place Thursday at Cape Cod Community College.

CCB MEDIA PHOTOS
Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, speaks during a break-out session focused on housing during Governor Baker’s roundtable discussion on economic development. The Cape’s session took place Thursday at Cape Cod Community College.

WEST BARNSTABLE – Governor Charlie Baker asked for feedback and Cape Cod business leaders responded at an roundtable session devoted to economic development this week.

More than 150 municipal officials and business leaders participated in the session that took place Thursday in the Grossman Commons at Cape Cod Community College.

The session on the Cape was one of six roundtables that took place across the commonwealth.

Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross was among the business leaders at the event.

“The state has to rewrite its economic development plan. The governor has until the end of this year to do that. The state office of business development folks were in town trying to get feedback, ideas, input, critiques, and we were happy to share,” she said.

CCB MEDIA PHOTO Liz Kovach, president of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, speaks about affordable housing development.

Liz Kovach, president of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, speaks about affordable housing development.

Attendees were divided into six groups focusing on the following topics: preparing communities for success, fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, sector strategies, competitiveness and regulations, talent retention and workforce development, and housing development.

Northcross said she heard some new comments in her group. “I actually heard some good ideas about things going on in other states, relative to housing and relative to wastewater,” she said.

The governor’s office plans to compile the comments into a report and then report back to the communities before finalizing the report.

The state is planning to issue a final economic development report at the beginning of 2016. “And that will give us some idea of how the state is headed and how we can align our work with the state’s work,” Northcross said.

At the end of the break-out sessions, the facilitators of each of the six groups reported comments that had consensus within the groups. Those comments included that the state was too heavy-handed with regulations and that infrastructure inadequacies under the state’s purview were having a negative impact on business development.

CCB MEDIA PHOTO Deanna Ruffer, community development director for the town of Chatham; Bill Zammer, who is a restauranteur, Michael Kasparian, president and CEO of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, and Michael Galasso, chairman of the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation, talk about the Cape's lack of workforce housing.

Deanna Ruffer, community development director for the town of Chatham; Bill Zammer, who is a restauranteur; Michael Kasparian, president and CEO of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce; and Michael Galasso, chairman of the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation, talk about the Cape’s lack of workforce housing.

One of the facilitators, Jay Zavala, who is the former president and CEO of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, said that road blocks in the areas of regulation and zoning; lack of funding for wastewater, and high taxes, density and lack of leadership were all brought up by members of his group.

In the group that focused on workforce development, comments included needing more worker training, as well as management and human resources training.

In the group that focused on housing, there was a resounding affirmative to the question of whether housing is a concern.

Christine Duran, executive officer of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod, said that information from building permits shows that the home construction industry generates a half billion dollars a year in the region.

“It’s a huge economic driver on the Cape,” she said.

But criticism in the housing group also touched on issues with regulations and zoning.

CCB MEDIA PHOTO Deanna Ruffer, community development director for the town of Chatham, addresses the group.

CCB MEDIA PHOTO
Deanna Ruffer, community development director for the town of Chatham, addresses the group.

One of the participants in the housing group, Michael Galasso, who is chairman of the Falmouth Economic Development Corporation, brought with him a list of seven strategies to increase the amount of workforce housing on the Cape.

Galasso’s ideas included requesting that the state Department of Housing and Community Development establish a separate allocation of funds for small projects of five to 30 units and to reduce the scope of the application form for smaller projects.

Another idea he introduced is to provide each town on the Cape with a list of state-owned surplus properties that can be made available for workforce and affordable housing.

Northcross said that next week the chamber will be sending additional written comments to the governor’s office for the economic development plan.