Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Develephant

There's a story that anyone who's ever attended third grade has heard about the three blind men who each touch an elephant at a different part of the animal's body. The first touches the trunk and announces the elephant is wiry and agile. The second touches its flank and concludes the elephant is massive and sturdy while the third one grabs the elephant by its tail and pronounces it to be skinny and weak.

All three are absolutely correct but all three are also completely wrong, both in equal measure. Good news, at least for them, as all three could have lucrative careers as economic development consultants. Because economic development relies on amortization rates, projections of rates of quarterly and annual growth, costs per square foot, return on investment and a dozen or so other definable variables and variants, it's tempting to see it as a science.

But a strong argument can be made that it's probably closer to being an art and sometimes, fairly or not, it's more luck than skill. One man's ceiling is literally another one's floor (especially in an urban environment) and very often what you see is (exactly) what you get, WYSIWYG, but just as often is dependent upon not only on where you stand but what you wanted to see when you chose to look.

In a sense economic development in Norwich is that aforementioned elephant (I'll leave you to make your own 'clown car' joke because my sense of humor is so pedestrian), and in The Rose of New England we spend almost as much time arguing over what is, and isn't, economic development as we do over whether we are actually experiencing any. And, as is the case with that pesky pachyderm, once you pick a perspective it colors and shapes everything you see.

Twenty-three and half months after 3.38 million dollars of bonding was approved for a three-pronged economic revitalization initiative throughout Chelsea to be managed by the Norwich Community Development Corporation, NCDC, at the direction of the City Council, we, the people who elected the members of that Council, are often less than pleased with what we see as fitful progress.

We don't have throngs of shoppers crowding the sidewalks in Franklin Square or small start-ups sprouting from Hamilton Street on the East Side all the way to where Church and Water Streets intersect with Chelsea Harbor Drive or a wave of small retailers lining both sides of Main Street and activity in professional offices and apartments above the ground floor. Yet.

But let's not forget we have watched a commercial marina just steps away from Down City successfully reinvent itself after some very lean years and, beyond the Sweeney Bridge and the Regional Transportation Center, RTC,  there's constant business development all the way down West Main Street and Salem Turnpike.

Instead of continuing to squabble over the placement and purpose of the RTC might we be better served by insisting local and state government address challenges of traffic and congestion along what most of us call Route 82, created by successful businesses without government promises and programs?

Speaking of the private sector, take a look at the investment of time, talent and money in the Norwichtown Commons and look forward to its completion of Phase One. Whether a resident of Laurel, Bean or Cherry Hill, we benefit from every increase in the grand list and be it Greeneville, Taftville or Thamesville, any enhancement in our community's quality of life is always an advantage.

Sometimes it depends on which part of the elephant you touch and how closely behind it you are walking. If you got some on your shoes, I may be able to help you. Step Right Up.
-bill kenny 

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