Louras and Allaire talk economic development
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of weekly stories on the mayoral race in Rutland. Each will focus on a different issue.
By Gordon Dritschilo
For Alderman David Allaire, economic development in the city is ultimately a question of public safety.
“I want to make the link between having folks in the community and outside the community feeling Rutland is a safe place to do business,” said Allaire, who has challenged Mayor Christopher Louras and declared public safety will be at the center of his campaign. “You’re not going to have any serious economic development unless you’re providing your folks with safety.”
(Public safety will be the focus of next week’s story.)
Louras, on the other hand, says the city has launched development strategies that have already begun to show results and that should show more results with time. As an example, he pointed to Keith’s II bringing their manufacturing operation to the West Street Armory.
“There are other properties we’re currently working on using that model,” he said. “We are having some success and things are moving along in a number of ways.”
Allaire said the city did appear to be moving in roughly the right direction.
“I can’t think of anything in particular we should stop doing,” he said. “I’m looking for things we can do more and better. I don’t think we’re doing anything wrong with economic development. I think we’re not doing enough.”
One new strategy Allaire said he thought the city could pursue is tax increment financing — a program under which the city designs infrastructure improvements for a neighborhood, calculates how much property values ought to increase because of those improvements, raises taxes in the neighborhood accordingly and uses the added revenue to fund the improvements.
However, Allaire said the city would have to apply to the state to pursue such a scheme, and that the state has capped the number of such districts that can exist at one time.
Louras argued that the city needs to start by making sure existing businesses have what they need to continue and grow. When the city was looking at building a new filter at the water plant, Louras said it was important that the work would have been paid for through meter fees rather than by water useage, which he said would have burdened businesses like General Electric.
Beyond that, Louras said city officials and the various development agencies need to continue working together, trying to match businesses to properties and pull them in with tools like the tax stabilization policy that was applied to Keith’s II.
Allaire joined Louras in calling the tax stabilization policy a key tool for the city.
“We should promote that as much as we can,” he said.
He also, similar to Louras, said the various development agencies should make more of an effort to get “outside our borders,” to recruit businesses.
Allaire said he thinks the city needs to be careful to not limit the sort of businesses it pursues. Green Mountain Power’s efforts to attract solar developers show Rutland is “open for business,” he said, but the city should not limit itself.
“I’m not looking to zero in on any segment of the economy,” he said, adding that the city does want “clean” businesses. “We need to look everywhere we can.”
Louras, similarly, said the city needs to take a wide view not just of business types, but business locations.
“I’ve been a great advocate of sustainable agriculture, even though there are no working farms in the city, as a job creator for the region,” he said. “We need to look at jobs regionally.”
People working outside the city, Louras said, often still live or spend money inside it.
Louras also said the city cannot focus on traditional industries, and that the effort to bring solar firms to the city is an example of how Rutland can benefit from the “new economy.” He said he is speaking to two firms who want to use Rutland as a pilot for solar development and would, as a result, locate offices in the city.
Finally, Louras said infrastructure improvements had to be a key part of any development strategy.
“If we don’t invest in ourselves, we’re not going to convince anyone else to invest in us,” he said