Bedford hears about doing business better
BEDFORD - The way to attract businesses to town is by creating a municipal culture that is open and accommodating to outsiders thinking about setting up shop here, an official from the state Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) told the town council Wednesday.
"The taxpayers are your customers," Michael Bergeron said. "I've been to so many planning board meetings around the state where nobody smiles."
Bergeron's comments came during a presentation in which he outlined the state of the economy, both nationally and in New Hampshire, and offered practical pointers on how to recruit and retain businesses.
"Generally, things are picking up" in the economy," Bergeron said. "For the first time in several years manufacturing is starting to tic up, and housing is doing really well with the median home price now at $315,000." Of course, he added, there are other, less positive economic indicators, such as the national and global debts and more taxes on the federal level, all of which are drags on the economy.
"It's no longer business as usual," he said. "It's never going to be the same" as it was when New Hampshire and the rest of the nation were enjoying the boom times of the 1990s.
Still, Bergeron said Bedford is better positioned, both geographically and in the way it conducts business, than many other communities in the state. Given what the new normal is in this economy, Bergeron said the competition between cities and towns in attracting new businesses is stiff and getting stiffer every day.
When businesses are thinking of moving to New Hampshire, there is a list of things they consider, such as the presence of a skilled work force, incentives in the form of tax credits and a low overall tax burden, an inventory of industrial and office space for rent or purchase, and easy access to interstate highways and an airport.
"Basically, you have it all," Bergeron told councilors, but he added there remain things that Bedford can do to improve its position against competitor communities.
One situation he's encountered in other municipalities is that when prospective businesses call town offices seeking information, there is no specific point person to speak with.
"If I call the town up, I need to know that you have one person that I can talk to and meet with," he said. "Too often everyone wants to be the boss."
Speeding up municipal processes is always to a town's benefit, Bergeron said.
"Speed equals success," he said. In many communities he said the permitting process is too slow, and local boards deter businesses because of "delay, delay, delay."
He said it's vitally important, too, that phone calls to town hall get promptly returned.
"The collective personality of the people (who work in town hall) is very important. You always want to make sure that you're quickly following up on things."
Today's social networking technology is an important but under-utilized tool. "Your website is your window to the outside world," Bergeron said, pointing to the fact that when he Googled Bedford, the front page of the town's website was not the first thing he saw. "You should make sure that the search engine automatically goes right to your front page," he said.
Obtaining information from a website should be easy, Bergeron said, adding that it's more helpful to convey information about a town in graphic ways rather than using large blocks of text to tell a story.
Bergeron commended Bedford for having pictures and the contact information of elected officials up on the website, but said that including cell phone numbers next to the pictures would send a message that members of the town council or the planning board are accessible to the public.
"This is a lot to think about, and we do need to do some thinking," said councilor Bill Dermody. Councilor Normand Longval called Bergeron's presentation an eye-opener.
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