Manchester used to have a full-time economic development director. He resigned in November. Economic development in Manchester did not come to a halt. The city might have done a study to determine whether it really needs an economic development director, but studies cost money. Instead, the mayor transferred economic development work to his office. On Tuesday the aldermen codified that move, which was a good call.
The vote to make the economic development office officially a part of the mayor’s office was 11-2. Democratic Aldermen Garth Corriveau and Patrick Arnold voted against it, with Arnold (who is running against Republican Mayor Ted Gatsas this fall), making the point that the move could politicize the economic development functions of city government.
There is always a risk that a politician will politicize anything he touches. The flip side is that bureaucrats are not always as helpful and responsive as are officials who are directly accountable to voters.
A benefit to having economic development run out of the mayor’s office (as is done in many other cities) is that mayors can be held more directly responsible for economic development efforts. From now on, candidates for that office will have to propose plans for stimulating economic growth, and voters can hold them accountable for successes and failures — to the extent that an economic development office actually affects growth, which brings us back to our original point.
There is some evident value in having an office that serves as the single point of contact within city government for business owners and managers. Not evident is that such an office should employ a civil servant tasked with recruiting businesses and otherwise being the chief city cheerleader. Aldermen should consider studying just what an economic development office should do and how much value it really provides the taxpayers.