An Opportunity for the EDC
Allan Blair, the long-time director of the Economic Development Council (EDC) of Western Mass., announced at a recent council board meeting that he will be retiring at the end of this year. Almost within minutes after that announcement, the board announced the appointment of a search committee to anoint Blair’s successor.
The juxtaposition of those events clearly indicates that Blair’s decision to step down wasn’t news to anyone, and it also makes it evident that the board had already made up its mind up to carry on in the same fashion that it has for the past 17 years.
We suggest that the board slow things down a bit, or more than a bit, take full advantage of the one year’s notice Blair gave (under different circumstances, this would be a little excessive), and decide first if this model is really working before simply starting to pore over résumés.
A thorough examination might well conclude that the current system — which has the EDC serving as an umbrella organization for a host of agencies, ranging from the Affiliated Chambers to Westmass; from the Regional Employment Board to the Convention and Visitors Bureau — is a model that works. But then again, it may also decide, as many have suggested, that the current system adds bureaucracy to the process of economic development, not real value.
And while examining its model, the EDC’s board should also address the agency’s purpose, and determine whether its mission has been properly, and specifically, defined — and communicated.
We say this because many business owners and managers — including some who sit on the EDC’s board — are not at all sure what this agency and its leaders do and how it is to be held accountable for what’s done, or not done, as the case may be.
And as the board uses the year Blair gave it to consider all these things, we would suggest they use the occasion of his departure to infuse some new blood, and some new energy, into the organization.
Blair has notched some notable accomplishments in his lengthy tenure — mostly in the realm of industrial-park development and creating what is known as the Hartford-Springfield Economic Partnership — but this agency needs a shakeup and a fresh commitment to the many tenets of economic development.
For this reason, we suggest the search committee look outside the block of offices in the TD Bank Building to find a successor. While hiring from within — and, in this case, that’s a broad term — is often a prudent tack, in this instance we believe the EDC needs some new perspective and new sense of purpose, and it won’t get either unless it brings in dynamic new leadership.
Two names come immediately to mind. First is Richard Sullivan, the former mayor of Westfield and current secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. He knows this region, has a proven track record for getting things done, and knows how to work with people to set and meet or exceed goals.
Another is Greg Bialecki, currently state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development. While not from Western Mass., he has worked closely with Gov. Deval Patrick to help Springfield recover from the fiscal woes of a decade ago and recent weather calamities, especially the tornado of 2011. He understands the plight of the state’s Gateway Cities, and would bring some energy — not to mention state connections — to the process of revitalizing those in this region — Springfield, Holyoke, Westfield, and others.
It may be difficult to recruit either one because they will likely have a number of job opportunities when (and if) their tenure with the state ends soon. But they are examples of how this region needs to think big — and hire big — when it comes to filling this important position.
As we said, this is an opportunity for this area, and it should take full advantage of it.