By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY – The city is looking to hire a new assistant director for the Community Economic Development Department, who will serve under director Joe Fahey and possibly succeed him following his retirement in two years.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer said he and Fahey have been interviewing a slate of candidates and they hope to make a hire soon. The new assistant director is expected to make $70,000 annually. Last summer the City Council approved a half-year salary of $35,000 for the position as part of the current budget.
“There’s already money there,” Kezer said.
The decision to hire a new assistant director comes as economic development moves to the forefront of city politics. Kezer has repeatedly emphasized increased economic development as the solution to the city’s financial problems, and efforts to redevelop the Lower Millyard have dominated the public discussion over the past year.
Last summer the City Council voted to approve a $5.9 million proposal that will move the old DPW garage out of the Lower Millyard following months of contentious discussion, and next month the council is expected to vote on another $725,000 proposal that will create a new Heritage Park in its place.
Kezer and Fahey have both said that moving the DPW and creating the park could help draw as much as $93 million in new development into Amesbury, and Kezer said the new hire would be dedicated to making that happen.
“One of the things that some of the council has been asking for is someone to actively pursue business development in the Lower Millyard, as well as other areas,” Kezer said. “So the interviews we’ve been conducting have been with people with a particular skill set that will be very helpful as far as commercial and industrial growth in the city.”
Besides the Lower Millyard, the new assistant director will also look to bring in business development in places like the Golden Triangle between Elm St., I-95 and I-495, and in other underutilized areas.
The Community Economic Development Department experienced layoffs in 2009, and currently has five employees. Since the layoffs, Kezer said he’s wanted to get new bodies back into the office, and the recent uptick in economic activity in town has made that possible.
“They need people in that office, because there is a lot going on, and that office is the primary function that grows our future revenues through economic activity,” Kezer said.
Councilor James Kelcourse concurred, saying he thinks the city needs to move forward with further economic development and do the best it can to draw more business to the community.
“It can only help us to bring in someone to build our commercial and industrial tax base,” Kelcourse said. “Mr. Fahey could use some help in that department.”
Kezer also said the city needed to have a transition plan in place for when Fahey does eventually retire, though he added that whoever is hired as assistant director would have to prove capable of the job before being promoted to director. Amesbury currently has Fahey directing the department, Nipun Jain works as the city planner, and Shauna Becotte is director of community development. The department also has a secretary and conservation agent.
Fahey has served as Amesbury’s economic development director since 1979, and city officials expect he will probably stay on for at least two more years so he can see the Lower Millyard project through to its completion before stepping down.
Fahey will also be eligible for his maximum retirement around that same time, which would provide an added incentive to stay on.
Should the new hire end up succeeding Fahey as the department’s director, Kezer said the assistant director position would be filled again, and his goal was making sure the economic development office remains well staffed into the future.