Groton RTM members: Economic growth group needed

Groton - The Representative Town Meeting will soon get the chance to debate a proposal to create an economic development corporation that would be out of the control of the town and city mayors as well as the town manager.

RTM member John Scott proposed the agency last month, saying he believed the city and town have failed to present a unified front on economic development. The agency as proposed would report directly to the RTM.

But Scott said Monday he would make changes to draft a measure people would support; he just wants something done.

RTM member Joe Baril agreed.

"We have to do something for economic development in this town," he said.

The RTM Community Development Services Committee referred the proposal to the full body for discussion.

The committee didn't endorse the specific plan but Scott said he would refer it to the finance committee for further discussion.

Scott's proposed agency would cover all four corners of Groton, including the city, and would be similar to independent agencies established in Norwich and New London. He spoke Monday about Norwich, saying the agency provides service to businesses by explaining "the ropes" so they don't have to figure everything out, for example.

Town Manager Mark Oefinger said if the issue is a perceived problem with regulations, the town should fix what's wrong instead of creating an agency to help get around regulations.

Oefinger said one issue is the town doesn't have political support to invest in economic development. He added that if the town wants to offer a financial incentive to business, it should make it well-defined and easy to administer.

"We had a program, we set it up and then we kind of beat people up when they asked for it," Oefinger said.

He said people still complain about incentives given to the Mystic Marriott, which has become the town's third-largest taxpayer.

Kristin Havrilla Clarke, Groton's economic development specialist, said her budget is $12,000 at most.

She said attending trade shows to market the town is expensive. For example, the tourism summit, "Destination New England" held at the Mystic Marriott costs $2,500 for the early bird rate and that doesn't include an overnight stay.

Even though it's being held locally, she said, "that's a lot of money if your budget is $8,000 (to) $12,000."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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