Walpole, State Sends Message to Local Business

November 24, 2009

The Walpole Times, by Keith Ferguson

WALPOLE – The message from town and state officials to current and potential business owners at last week’s annual business forum was clear: we are here to help.

“Please do not think no one in government is listening – no one in government cares,” said Andre Porter, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship. “My job is to listen to you then go back to Boston to advocate on your behalf.”

The state has gone out of its way to cut red tape bureaucracy in order to foster an atmosphere of success in Massachusetts for small business, he said.

Several town and state business authorities spoke last Wednesday afternoon to a dining area full of Walpole businessman at the Economic Development Commission’s third annual business forum about the best ways to seek help in expanding their business, starting-up business, and keep their business running. The event was held at the Walpole Country Club.

The parade of presenters stressed there are a multitude of individuals and agencies on the local and state level that are there to assist them as soon as business owners are willing to step forward.

Small business in town, said Economic Development Commission Chairman Larry Pitman, is vital to “getting us out of the funk we’re in. 

“Our goal is to help,” he said.

“We’re trying to bring in good, clean business grow and prosper here,” said Selectmen Chairman Chris Timson, adding Walpole will do everything possible in the political setting to work with and help business owners. “We’ve tried to put in place the tools and the things to help business grow in this town.”

Walpole, like most towns in the Commonwealth, is challenged in this economy especially to expand resources without raising taxes, said Town Administrator Michael Boynton. 

The best way to do that and bring in revenue is to create or bring in business, he said.

Last election season, several selectman ran on platforms of bolstering commercial revenue through business development as voters ultimately supported a property tax increase to pay for a new library.

Selectmen are also set to propose another tax increase to pay for a new police station.

“Without the business community,” Boynton said. “The tax rate for the residential people is through the roof.”

He said it’s the town’s responsibility to keep up to date on their zoning bylaws and identify business that will fit nicely in the Walpole community while generating revenue.

Changes to the bylaws may affect business by not opening up doors to potential suitors or, conversely, attract undesirable business, but the town, he said, is working with local business owners to figure out what’s best for the town going forward. 

Several Walpole officials asked viewers who know anyone looking to start up a business to contact the town for help. 

Trish White, business administrator of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, also spoke about free business assistance to startups. She said she would turn her counselees on to space in Walpole.

Locally, the best resource, officials said, is Economic Development and Grants Officer Stephanie Mercandetti.

“Our folks who work for this go out of their way and have a dedication like I’ve never seen,” said Boynton.

“Really it is a town partnership in connecting folks to the resources they need,” Mercandetti said.

She said she is looking to strengthen the downtown by pursuing two state grants currently to improve center streetscapes.

Bonnie Sullivan, the vice president of MassDevelopment, said the state has identified Walpole as an economic target area – a region where businesses are offered tax incentives to attract new business and promote job creation.

Director Annemarie Kersten, of the Massachusetts Office of Business Development – more commonly known as “The Biz Team,” said here office is rated by job creation and retention. 

“I have some of the best people in the world who are looking to work, said Carl Lavin, from the Division of Career Services out of Norwood, adding many are Walpole residents looking to stay in town. 

“More jobs? Yes. Create jobs? Yes, please,” Lavin said to business owners and officials. “As soon as you can create jobs, we can fill them.”

Porter thanked local small business owners. 

“Without you, we would not have the economy we have,” he said, explaining Massachusetts is “relatively” better off than most states because of its business diversity.

He said the governor was working hard to cut the cost and affordability of healthcare for small business owners to further promote success.

The economy cycles, said Porter, and the country will find its way out of the downturn in three to five years. Massachusetts, however, is looking to accelerate that process – at least on the state level – to 12 to 18 months.

“We have led the world and we will lead the country out of this recession and it’s thanks to people like you,” Porter said to business owners.

© Copyright 2009 The Walpole Times.