Interview with Johnston’s Mayor Joseph Polisena

When Mayor Joseph Polisena walked through the doors of Johnston Town Hall at the beginning of his term in 2007, there was plenty of work to be done. The new mayor realized a need for increased commerce in Johnston—a change that would revitalize the town and benefit the taxpayers. He knew that an influx of new businesses in Johnston would produce more traffic, which would increase revenue for existing businesses as well. Also, with progressive industry comes job creation–a cornerstone of Mayor Polisena’s plan for Johnston.

As the mayor’s tenure began, it was a time of transition for much of Johnston’s town government, which afforded Polisena the opportunity to assign a new team. He crafted an administration that shared his vision for Johnston: an environment that would be supportive of commercial growth in the community, to be welcoming and supportive to new small businesses, and willing to temper that commitment to industry in Johnston as to not encroach upon the residential neighborhoods in town.

One of the most basic changes implemented at Town Hall has made one of the most significant impacts to the growth of small businesses in Johnston. The staff has adopted a friendly, welcoming and helpful protocol as they assist business owners in the process of starting a business in Johnston or transitioning their pre-existing business to Johnston. What was once a daunting prospect, is now less intimidating. As a result, the town is approving several new business licenses each month.

“If a business owner visits, and is interested in starting a business or bringing their business to Johnston, we provide you with a packet of information and we sit down with you. The paperwork doesn’t sit on someone’s desk for weeks or months,” Mayor Polisena explained. Things get done. We understand that time is money for any business. I want people to know, if you are coming to Johnston, we welcome you with open arms. You have an open ear directly from the Mayor’s Office. That’s important. I don’t delegate.”

Polisena realizes that the success of small businesses in Johnston starts with the initial support from Town Hall, but they also profit from the existence and success of larger businesses and the traffic and visibility they generate. In the past few years, major franchises such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, TD Bank and, more recently, Ocean State Job Lot have come to Johnston, co-existing with smaller businesses, also new to Johnston, such as the new Brewed Awakenings, CardSmart, Borelli’s Bakery, Anytime Fitness and a few new local restaurants.

The mayor also recognizes and is dedicated to retaining key relationships with some of Johnston’s larger businesses that have an established history with the town. Companies such as BJ’s Wholesale Club and FM Global had considered moves at one time. He worked closely with these corporations to maintain positive relationships, contributing to their decisions to stay locally. Keeping crucial businesses in town supports revenue and employment rates for Johnston, but also supports other businesses in town, by keeping traffic brisk.

Looking forward, the mayor continues to be dedicated to economic advancement and expansion in Johnston. Stuart’s Plaza on Hartford Avenue is a major project that is currently underway. (Potential retailers are competing for that lease space.) Additionally, there are parcels of undeveloped commercial land in Johnston that are being surveyed for retail consideration. Mayor Polisena hopes for another supermarket in Johnston as part of the plan.

It’s an energizing season of transformation in Johnston. Things are starting to look different. New businesses and retailers are coming to Johnston, in part because of the commerce-friendly climate: one that provides support directly from Town Hall. “Breaking from the past, building for the future.” It is a slogan that Joseph Polisena adopted in the early days of his mayoral campaign. They are words that serve as his compass today, guiding him in his administration as he continues to enrich and cultivate the business landscape of Johnston.

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