Salem economic development panel getting back to work

Salem The Economic Development Commission is scheduled to meet on Jan. 27 in what would be the group's first meeting in months.

After one commission member moved out of town and another began attending college in Boston, the EDC canceled its October, November and December meetings because it only had two full members left.

Last week, the Board of Selectman appointed three new commission members and one alternate member, filling the five full seats on the commission and allowing meetings to resume. There is still a vacancy for an alternate member.

The new commission members are Wendy Mikolinski, who owns the Salem Health Mart Pharmacy, Jenifer Lee, who had been serving as an alternate on the commission, and Andrew Lightner. Selectman Robert Ross, who is the liaison to the commission, said Lee has been doing a great job on the commission and said she has been "making an increasingly valuable contribution."

The four new commission members have impressive résumés and will make a "good team" on the economic development commission, said First Selectman Kevin Lyden.

Selectman Ed Chmielewski, who is also the Republican Town Committee chairman, said his party nominated three of the commission members who were approved last Tuesday.

During the 2013 municipal elections, Chmielewski made the EDC's cancelled meetings an issue, vowing to make resurrecting the commission a priority if elected. He said the commission is critical to helping improve Salem's economy.

Lyden said that even before Chmielewski made the cancelled meetings an issue, the plan had been to reform the commission this year.

After the resignations in September and October, Lyden said he met with EDC chair Frank Sroka and Ross to discuss the situation. Together, said Lyden, the three decided to wait until after elections, hoping some of the enthusiastic candidates who were not elected might be interested in serving on the commission.

The alternate appointed Tuesday fit that description-Republican Ken Bondi, who ran for Zoning Board of Appeals but lost due to minority representation rules.

Republican Selectman Elbert Burr praised Bondi, calling the former real estate broker and business owner "overly qualified" for the position.

Before the cancelled meetings, the commission had organized a second annual summer farmers' market that featured greatly expanded offerings. The EDC also discussed how to draw tourists to Salem and how to market the town.

Although the recession has been difficult for southeastern Connecticut, Lyden said Salem has been doing well. Burnett's Country Gardens is considering adding a café and organic food store, he said, and people come from out of town to frequent businesses like Salem Valley Farms Ice Cream and Salem Prime Cuts.

Lyden said he also hopes the commission will continue discussing how to market the town through brochures, newspaper ads and open houses. He wants the commission to develop a brand for Salem, fearing that the town will be branded by others if the EDC doesn't do it first.

Chmielewski called the current climate "very difficult" for small business owners and hopes to see the reorganized commission reach out to that community.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

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