Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mayoral candidates Q&A: Economic Development

This is an installment in a series of Q&A posts with mayoral candidates. The Record sent candidates a number of questions on different topics in mid-August and their full answers can be found here. In this post, candidates weigh in on economic development in the city.

While Republican candidate Jim Gordon did send answers addressing public safety, which were published weeks ago, he did not send answers for this series of questions. Shown below are answers from Patrick Madden, Rodney Wiltshire and Jack Cox Jr. Madden and Wiltshire are both Democrats; Madden has the Democratic line and Wiltshire has the Working Families Party line. Cox has the independent Revolutionary Party line.

 How would you balance efforts to continue the success in downtown Troy versus encouraging business development in neighborhoods like Lansingburgh and South Troy?

Cox: My efforts short term will continue to be heavily focused on downtown. We have momentum downtown and now is not the time to divert our resources. The reason our residential property taxes are so high is because we have lost our business and industrial tax base. Downtown development is vital to the city’s recovery as it generates revenue above and beyond property taxes. Downtown is easier to market as it offers a variety of development opportunities and typically attracts larger developers and corporations that have well defined business plans and are better capitalized. Neighborhood business areas are harder to market and develop due to the limited customer base and city zoning restrictions. They typically attract business investors who are usually owner operators. When you limit business uses you eliminate diversification. When you eliminate diversification you create a watered down market where every business is trying to attract the same customer. Being more creative and diversified in our neighborhood business districts will allow local customers better access to goods and services while providing a cooperative, not competitive business environment. Providing resources like grants, tax breaks and management training will help small business owners to get into operation and provide them with the knowledge and capital to stay in business. I will start immediately and work diligently to attract quality business opportunities in our neighborhood areas, it will take some time however to get the resources in place.

Wiltshire: I think we need to keep focusing on supporting small local businesses throughout Troy and apply what has worked Downtown across the city. I will work with business owners to see if launching a BID (Business Improvement District) in Lansingburgh and South Troy is feasible.  I  also want to reform our IDA so it focuses on local (and longstanding) businesses investing in  Troy, not just large developers.

Madden: The success of the downtown enables and enhances development opportunities in the neighborhoods. We need to strategically identify opportunities for development in each of our neighborhoods and promote them. I am a big proponent of neighborhood development and I would support investment in the neighborhoods around specific development opportunities.

What types of businesses and industries do you envision growing in Troy?

Madden: We have a great and growing interest from businesses that value the ‘thick and rich’ environment created by our educational institutions (RPI, Sage and HVCC), our walkable  neighborhoods, historic fabric and cultural opportunities. I see that sector continuing to grow.

Wiltshire: Troy is famous for its history, architecture and iconic figures. While Troy has become a destination city I don’t believe we’ve tapped our full potential for historical tourism.  We need to capitalize on that.
Troy also has a history as a center of manufacturing and solid, blue-collar jobs.  We need more of these jobs to make Troy sustainable and vibrant. One immediate avenue we should pursue is harnessing our hydro power in Troy.  If elected I will look into how we can create jobs in this sector, while finding even more ways to capture renewable energy.

Cox: All forms of business and industry will be sought out and encouraged to consider Troy as a place of operation. I will not exclude any industry and every opportunity will be reviewed and judged soley on its benefit to the community. I will not allow quality projects to be overlooked because they do not fall into a specific genre. With help from RPI, I hope to attract and expand the high tech opportunities that are emerging in Troy and the greater Capital region. Blue collar light duty manufacturing jobs are also a priority. Industry was one of the many things that made Troy famous. We were known for making quality goods. Jobs that pay enough to raise a family on that you can get with limited formal education. My biggest concern right now is that most of the existing light duty industrial buildings in the city are being converted into residential housing. If we are fortunate enough to attract new industry, where will we put it?

Do you think too much investment has been made in Troy’s downtown, compared with North and South Troy?

Wiltshire: I don’t believe development is a zero sum game where each part of Troy is competing for the same resources. We don’t want to lose momentum in downtown, and downtown isn’t completely sustainable on its own- all of Troy does better when each part of Troy does better. The barriers to investment aren’t economic but in everything else tied to the economy. You can’t walk down the streets in Lansingburgh and South Troy without running into abandoned buildings, crumbling sidewalks and pothole littered roads. We need to invest the resources of public works into cleaning up these areas and rebuilding their infrastructure. Business development requires an opportunity for growth, and regardless of financial support, if the infrastructure isn’t there, businesses can’t thrive.

Madden: Certainly not. The investment in our downtown is predominantly private investment generated by opportunities that motivate the private market. This has not happened at the expense of the neighborhoods. It can and should, however, be used to leverage similar opportunities for investment throughout all of our neighborhoods.

Cox: No, I do not. I do think the investment in downtown was done in a way that sold the city taxpayers short. What many taxpayers do not know is that less than 20 million dollars (30%) of the 65 million dollar city budget comes from property tax revenue. The remaining revenue comes from our business districts and State and Federal funding. Our property taxes alone do not cover the 48 million dollar plus cost for the city’s payroll let alone the city’s operating costs and MAC debt. City personnel services alone utilize 73% of the entire budget. Expanding the downtown business district and securing additional government funding will help stabilize property taxes until we can make progress with investments in North and South Troy.

Do you think it would be feasible to create Business Improvement Districts outside downtown, and would this be the way to stimulate growth in struggling neighborhoods?

Wiltshire: I think this is an option well worth exploring. If elected I’ll actively seek input from the local business owners on whether BIDs are feasible.  And if launching a BID is what the communities want to pursue, I’ll make sure City Hall is an active partner and supporter.

Cox: No, I do not. The business districts outside downtown are not that large in size and typically fall into lower level business zones (B1 – B2 – B3). This lower business zone classification limits opportunity to business uses that are readily available in other areas of the city. I believe that a BID program in these areas would create unnecessary financial burden on an already struggling business environment. The way I will stimulate growth in struggling neighborhood business districts will be to provide a planning and zoning approval process that will be fair, impartial and creative. A department that understands that very seldom can you take property from its lowest form to its highest form in one step. A planning department that understands a less desirable short-term opportunity is better than a non-existent long term opportunity. A planning department that understands that diversification is the key to survival in all business areas of the city.

Madden: Business Improvement Districts are the creation of the business and property owners deciding to tax themselves to provide supplemental services. I would be glad to work with interested
businesses and property owners if they were interested in advancing the concept in their respective neighborhoods. Whether a BID stimulates growth will depend on how the BID manages itself.

In the last year, the city cut the resources and support offered to events organized by the Downtown BID. Do you believe the city should contribute resources to these events and in what capacity?

Cox: The city has made cuts in resources to many programs in the city including the public library. We are bleeding money and losing our tax base. We have lost valuable assets in one-time deals that, managed properly, could have provided long term income for the city. The additional revenue generated by the recent improvements downtown are being squandered away. I understand how vital downtown is to our future and respect those who have invested there. Until I meet with the downtown BID to fully understand their needs and review the city finances I will make no formal commitment to city resources. To answer the question, yes I do believe the city should contribute resources. The capacity should be to the best of our financial ability.

Madden: We are in this together. We have to work with event organizers to find a way to maintain these events, but we need to balance the benefit with the appropriate level of City resources.

Wiltshire: I absolutely support providing resources and in kind assistance to make these events successful.  As Council President I sit on the board of the BID.  I understand that the BID does more for the city than just simply hold events.  The BID is an invaluable resource for marketing, promotion and has been a driving force of why people are now viewing Troy as a destination city.

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