March 9, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: The future is now
By†Jody†Reese

Google, e-Bay, Amazon and other Internet companies are investing huge amounts of money each year in new equipment and skilled employees, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.

It was once thought that as Internet businesses these companies didnít need to keep investing, but each of them is discovering that to grow and keep profit margins healthy, they need to upgrade equipment and add staff. Itís not a new concept. Investment is the cornerstone of business growth. For example, Comcast couldnít offer on-demand service and high-speed Internet access and reap the profitable benefit of that without the very expensive upgrade to its system over the past decade.

Why, then, do this cityís aldermen think Manchester can prosper without continued investment? Unfortunately, thatís exactly what they are saying just as a new study has come out suggesting that Manchester city government continue to be involved in economic development and use its might to seed and encourage more private investment.

The study, by a Philadelphia consulting group hired under the watch of former Mayor Robert Baines, calls on Manchester city government to build a performing arts center, help expand convention space, improve sidewalks and roads, add bike trails and parking and, in general, make Manchester a more livable city.

But there doesnít seem to be much steam from the board or mayor for new investments. It is so easy to withdraw government assistance and tell the voters the aldermen are keeping spending down. Budget numbers and tax rates are easy to compare from year to year, while the benefits of long-term investments are almost impossible to measure in the present.

But good government and good leadership are never easy. Our aldermen led by Mayor Frank Guinta should use this study as a jumping-off point to choose the next city-financed project. It could be as grand as a university science center, or a performing arts center or as modest as planting trees along Elm Street south of Granite Street. City government has great psychological power to encourage private development by spending its own money. And in almost all cases, that money is paid back without any tax dollars going to pay for it. For example, no tax dollars have been used to finance the baseball park or the Verizon Wireless Arena or the parking garage at the Residence at Manchester Place.

The private sector
After this study came out many on the board said that private business should step up and invest in the city. Perhaps our aldermen are not aware of the millions of dollars that private business has invested in just the past five years ó far more than the city itself has invested. Real estate companies, such as Brady Sullivan, Anagnost Companies and Gamache Enterprises, have rehabbed numerous historic buildings, turning them from unused space into centers for local colleges, restaurants and other businesses that have brought good-paying jobs to the area. Small business owners too have stepped up, from Charles Rolecek to Roy Arsenault to Jack Franks to, yes, our newspaper. Entertainment businesses, such as the Monarchs, Wolves and Fisher Cats, have also invested millions. Now is not the time for our board of mayor and aldermen to wimp out. Step up, take the lead and make the hard choices.

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