Portsmouth EDC Chair calls Clark "vital to economic health" of town

The Portsmouth Town Council, at their budget meeting this week, tentatively cut the line item for Director of Business development, a position with responsibility for attracting and supporting commercial activity in town. Bill Clark has held this part-time position for the past 8 years.

Reaction to the decision has been immediate from members of the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee (PEDC). Doug Smith authored a post on Portsmouth Patch, "Why is Portsmouth Self-destructing?" where he notes that Clark's role "represents just about the minimum that Portsmouth can do to be considered friendly to businesses." And Andrew Kelly has started an online campaign to e-mail the Council asking them to reconsider their decision. Nut graf from Kelly: "Given the increasing burden of taxes that fall on homeowners in this Town, is this decision to abandon business development in the best interests of your constituents?"

When contacted for an official response, PEDC Chair Rich Talipsky replied by e-mail, and it deserves quoting at length:

After provisionally approving the funding of Bill Clark as Portsmouth's Director of Business Development on May 11, the Town Council, apparently without any warning, decided to eliminate his funding at their budget meeting of May 19.

The PEDC intends to strongly recommend that the Town Council reconsider funding for the Director of Business Development in the Town FY 2011-2012 Budget.

Mr. Clark’s service in assisting the PEDC has been exceptional. His continued service as the Town’s Director of Business Development is vital to the economic health of the Town and essential to the continued effectiveness of the PEDC. The tax revenues provided by our businesses generate much more revenue to the Town than they command in Town services. This revenue is absolutely critical to the economic solvency of the Town. In the face of an erosion of the business tax base in the 1990’s from 18 percent to nearly 10 percent, the PEDC recommended the creation of a full-time Director of Business Development as an essential part of a strategy to mitigate the decline. The Town Council approved a part-time consultant position in 2002. In the selection process, the Town was exceptionally fortunate to find Bill Clark who had the knowledge, experience, and personality to take on the exceptionally challenging job. Bill Clark immediately established himself as the central point of contact for Town business development as an advocate of both current and prospective businesses.

Since 2001, the Town’s business tax base has steadied out at about 10 percent. The mitigation of the eroding tax base can be directly attributable to the PEDC becoming much more proactive in the activities that affect the business climate in Portsmouth. Although it would be naive to assume that the efforts of Bill Clark were sole contributors to the tax base stabilization, it is clear that Bill has been a critical element in the strategy of the PEDC towards the improvement of the business climate of the Town.

The value of a position like that of Director of Business Development is very hard to quantify in that it involves many activities on which no exact economic value can be placed. During his time as Director of Business Development, Bill has established himself as a trusted partner to Town businesses, the Town Staff, Boards and Committees, Newport County organizations such as the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission, Aquidneck Island Land Trust and Newport County Chamber of Commerce (which has continued to support Portsmouth despite their Portsmouth Town funding being eliminated in the current year’s budget) and State and Federal agencies. He has engendered support from local businesses and non-profit institutions (like the Portsmouth Abbey) in both monetary donations and use of facilities to host PEDC strategic planning events. Losing Bill would leave a void as he acts as a clearinghouse for business development issues and provides an exceptional array of services and information. He represents the Town at meetings with economic advisors at the State and National levels who are decision makers on funding programs and paths that provide needed additional revenue for the Town.

We feel that the position of Director of Business Development, and in particular the performance of Bill Clark in the job, is very critical to the long-term economic survival of the Town. He is the face of the motto that the Town displays – “Every Business Counts.” Portsmouth only gets one chance to make a first impression to gain a new business; we need Bill Clark to continue making this best possible first impression. The PEDC considers that the retention of Bill Clark in his position of Director Business Development is exceptionally important to our work.

Richard Talipsky, Chair. Portsmouth EDC

Full disclosure: I have covered PEDC meetings over the past few years, and I have great respect for both the work they do and for Bill Clark. I would recommend you take 30 seconds and send the Council an e-mail before Tuesday — you can do it with one click with Kelly's online petition.