Featured City Woonsocket

The City of Woonsocket is embracing the future with policies that support investment and growth for the long term.  While all acknowledge the short to medium term fiscal issues the City must confront, most involved know that the most effective way to sustain the community is through durable economic development.  Good jobs, a growing and stabilized tax base and investment in building upgrades are all essential goals supported and pursued by the City Administration.

The City supports growth through various means.  Mayor Leo Fontaine is personally involved in welcoming most major projects to the City; this is the focus of his Administration.  The Mayor has put a policy in place for all public-facing departments to take a proactive, business friendly approach when investments are proposed and begin to work their way through the various approval processes required by State law and local ordinance.

The City has a full time economic development staff that provides a day to day point of contact for businesses large and small.  Whether you have questions about start up requirements for a new business, or are looking for assistance navigating regulations, the department, led by Matt Wojcik, exists to chase down answers and prevent roadblocks.  The department administers various State and local incentive programs, maintains a database of available properties and their characteristics to guide you, and will interact with any other City department on your behalf.

The highest priority for Woonsocket is maintaining a full service hospital in the City.  Because of financial pressures at Landmark Hospital, the institution’s full economic impact has not been felt or its potential understood.  Even now, Landmark is Woonsocket’s second largest employer.  If the proposed sale to a for-profit owner is consummated, the hospital will become the second largest taxpayer in town.  Investment in the hospital may range from $25 to $40 million dollars, which would go a long way toward meeting the City’s goal of $75 million in new commercial value over the next 5 years.

The City is also hoping for development of its remaining open industrial and commercial land.  With abutting parcels available alongside and within Highland Corporate Park, the City has an attractive site close to Route 99, and is willing to work with the owner to subdivide or rezone the property as needed to accommodate new construction.  Several lots have become available after the demolition of vacant mill buildings.  The City is willing to work with purchasers to pursue environmental assessment grants to help bring former industrial sites on line with a new purpose and more modern configuration.

The biggest challenge Woonsocket faces is the rehabilitation and reuse of its building stock.  Many structures in the City were built over 100 years ago for very specific purposes.  Bringing these buildings up to modern code compliance and repurposing them is a difficult task.  Recognizing the challenges involved, the City supports substantial rehabilitation through a local property tax incentive program, the Job Creation Incentive Program (JCIP).  By creating a minimum number of new jobs and investing in building upgrades that are over 25% of the assessed value of the facility, an owner can reduce local taxes for up to 10 years.  A number of successful businesses, including Supreme Dairy, American Cord and Webbing and the Plastics Group take advantage of this program, simultaneously growing the tax base of the City as they add employment.

Working together with the Governor’s Office, State government and several private institutions, various departments of the City, including Planning and Economic Development, have thrown themselves headlong into a revitalization of the City’s historic Main Street.  The City has won grants to support the planning of parking and transportation; the State has designated Main Street as an Arts and Entertainment District with various incentives for one of a kind creative work; façade restorations are supported through a competitive grant program, and a dedicated marketing effort backed by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is in place.  Successful collaboration has integrated everyone’s vision and work into a team effort.

Finally, there is no doubt that Woonsocket is a small business city. Every step is taken to welcome and encourage entrepreneurs.  The City has a small business loan program, funded with Community Development Block Grant proceeds, and a strong relationship with the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center, which provides technical assistance.  The risks involved and hard work invested in starting new enterprises are not taken for granted.

“We can only look ahead with optimism,” says Mayor Fontaine, “we did not get to where we are in a day, and it will take far more than one day to fully recover from this economy.  But we can never give up on the hard working people and wonderfully unique assets of the City of Woonsocket; we believe are best days are still ahead of us.”

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Avatar About the Author: The Rhode Island Small Business Journal is a printed monthly magazine and an online resource for the aspiring and start-up entrepreneur and small business owner.

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