Today, I wanted to talk about some of my ideas for economic development in Plainfield, both residential and commercial. That term, "economic development," gets tossed around quite a bit—it’s become a cliché to hear candidates use it as part of their campaign rhetoric. I am aware of that, but I want to move beyond rhetoric and into the realm of the possible.
I will provide you with my ideas on how Plainfield can benefit from my vision of how a pro-active council member can work to aggressively court businesses to relocate here, as well as to build the kind of quality residential development that will serve as a “magnet” to attract new residents.
I attended the recent visioning charette that Councilman Cory Storch began proposing back in April of 2009 and that the other councilors and the administration have since signed onto. It was wonderful to see what we, as a Plainfield community, are envisioning for our collective future. While it is a good first move, I have a vision, too—and some of it can be realized NOW, in the present.
First of all, development must include attracting new businesses. Part of stabilizing our property taxes is dependent on actively recruiting new businesses--retail, professional, commercial, and light-industrial--in order to broaden our tax base. According to the statistics, in the 1960s, non-residential taxpayers in Plainfield accounted for about one third of the tax receipts—in this decade, that share has fallen to about 17%. There is no way that residents can see any kind of tax stabilization without real improvement on this score.
There has been no strong effort to bring in businesses to see what we have to offer, which is disheartening, because we have several advantages over other municipalities. We have many available properties here in Plainfield, especially in the Fourth Ward, and along our Rte. 28 industrial corridor there and in the other parts of town. In addition, we can thank the late Al McWilliams for making sure that the North Avenue corridor was rebuilt fiber-optic ready, as we are already ahead of scores of other municipalities in this regard.
Equally important, however, is the fact that our city is uniquely situated next to Route 22 and I-78. For instance, if you have ever been to Newark (where I teach at Essex County College), you know what it’s like for trucks and other vehicles to make deliveries and pickups in the heart of the downtown of the city, with its congested and narrow streets. Simply getting to the turnpike or the interstate can take as much as 30-40 minutes.
These businesses wouldn’t have that kind of problem if they were to move to Plainfield. We are in a truly advantageous position, but we must actively court these businesses. Therefore, I propose that the administration do a complete inventory of what is available, in terms of properties, so that the Economic Development team can work on creating a really aggressive marketing plan to bring these businesses here.
There is no reason that the city council cannot work aggressively, hand in hand with the administration, to go after businesses that will relocate and stay. And I am not talking about just retail businesses, I am talking about businesses that can occupy some of our industrial corridor along North Avenue in the Second and Third Wards, as well as the Rte 28 areas in the Fourth Ward, where we have a number of vacant and underutilized properties available for the right businesses to come in. We can incentivize these and make them attractive, given the easy access to the highways.
Under the McWilliams administration, there was a marketing plan that focused on home-related businesses, like New Jersey Hardwoods on West Front Street, like Appliance-Arama on Second Street, like the upscale rugs and carpeting stores that buyers from all over the surrounding areas go to. That marketing plan was abandoned, and my opponent has sat on the council for nearly six years and has done nothing to bring new businesses here, or to petition the administration to create a strong marketing plan.
I will work with the administration’s economic development team and the council to get these businesses to come here; I will go down to the League of Municipalities on my own dime and meet with business owners and get them to come here. This kind of active role is what will bring good, well-paying, and long-lasting jobs to Plainfield and that will ease the property tax burden and improve ratables. That is what we need.
In economic hard times like we are experiencing now (officially, the unemployment rate in Plainfield is 15.1%, but likely exceeds that greatly), the City Council must look for ways to develop or expand sources of revenues other than property taxes. Whether it is reassessing things such as parking meter charges, updating fees for services and licenses, or finding new sources of revenue such as licensing fees for cell towers and communications relay installations, property owners have a right to expect their representatives to work tirelessly for tax stabilization.
When I ran the successful citywide council campaign of my friend, the late Ray Blanco, we spoke often of the need for true activists on the council to make Plainfield a destination spot for light industry. Ray (who was a great marketer!) and I talked about how to market our city and how to make it easier for businesses to want to come here. Ray himself talked about the improvements in Rahway, where his production company and gallery were located—the business climate made it an attractive place to be. Ray was much like me—he couldn’t sit back and watch the city he loved remain stagnant while all the other towns around us were on the move. Al McWilliams was the same way. So, we have got to get commercial development to come and stay, and that would be a main focus for me as a council member.
Residential Development and the “Teacher’s Village”
Another idea I have is to really focus on the kind of residential development that will be long-lasting and sustainable. For a while now, I have been following the development that is occurring in Newark and other parts of Essex County, and I have been talking to officials there about it.
Right now, Newark has a developer who is working on creating a “Teacher’s Village” in the University Heights area, where I teach at Essex County College. Also nearby are Rutgers and NJIT. This village envisions teachers and other middle-class professionals moving into the area where they work, with the amenities to keep them there. This project is underway and is scheduled for completion in 2012—just two years from now. This is the kind of aggressive, well-thought out and targeted residential development that I feel will help Plainfield. Several articles on this have appeared in the newspaper of late—I have provided the link to the most recent one of Tuesday, May 4, here: Newark Developer's $120M 'Teacher's Village' Education Complex Approved.
This is exactly the type of residential profile that Plainfield needs—marketing to educators and other professional people—and the Transit-Oriented Development that we have been talking about for a few years now would be perfect for this type of residential profile. The Trans Hudson Express Tunnel will finally bring us that "one-seat ride" on the Raritan Valley Line—we have to be ready for it, and I will work with all parties, whether here in Plainfield and Union County, but also through my contacts and relationships in Newark and Essex County, to make sure that we, as Plainfielders, can move into the invincible future together.
In my next post, I will write about other parts of my vision for the future of Plainfield, which I have been discussing with residents as I canvass the neighborhoods in the Second and Third Wards. I will outline my specific proposals for making Plainfield a destination city for the arts—we can make it happen!
Endorsed by Councilors
Cory Storch (Ward 2) and Adrian Mapp (Ward 3)
Rebecca Williams, City Council Candidate
New Democrats for Plainfield
Vote Tuesday, June 8
Vote Tuesday, June 8