OBSERVER CORPS REPORT, June 2020
The Falmouth Economic Development & Industrial Corporation (EDIC) is the Town of Falmouth’s primary agency responsible for creating and developing increased economic opportunities for both the present and the future. Its stated mission is: To attract, advocate and support economic vitality and seek to constantly improve the business climate in Falmouth.
It is important to remember that EDIC is, technically, a public non-profit corporation and not a town committee. In most respects it functions as a committee. However, in handling money, and probably in conforming to open meeting laws, there are some significant differences.
EDIC has experienced a major change in the past year, namely the addition of an Executive Director, Michael DiGiano as of June, 2019. DiGiano was hired for the position out of a field of 27 applicants. The position is supported by the longstanding administrative assistant, Lynne Broderick. They now appear on the website, along with contact information, and they occupy a small office space above the Chamber of Commerce. This has created a welcome communication hub, and relieved the EDIC members of considerable day to day efforts; but it has added the imperative of ongoing funding for the payroll. In exchange, EDIC’s activities are stronger and more coordinated than previously.
DiGiano and Broderick appear to work well with each other and the members. Reports and materials are prepared in a timely fashion, and either projected onto meeting room screens, or inserted into Zoom remote video meetings. Along with minutes of the meetings, the Executive Director’s Report appears on the website, and it is filled with useful details and updates on the many pending projects.
There is one new member this year, Tom Feronti, replacing Brooks Bartlett. Feronti’s background is in construction project management. With Susan Moran winning election to the state senate, Select Board member Sam Patterson has just been named to replace her.
Slightly revised bylaws were approved, but do not appear on the website. Open meeting procedures have been drawn up, promulgating in great detail who may make public comment and how. There are no stated procedures for transparency in communications among members, or between members and staff. It is difficult to imagine that internal conversations never stretch the letter of open meeting laws, though members and staff appear to be generally conscientious about it.
Budgets are closely monitored and audited, and there are ongoing concerns about deficit spending, especially the costs of running Falmouth Station. Some small funding requests have been denied, partly out of concern for the budget. New projects are carefully structured to include a percentage of administrative fee or management fee to be paid to EDIC in order to support its continuing efforts.
The Falmouth Station rehabilitation, management, and continuing development consumes a great deal of attention and funding, but is gradually stabilizing, pending the consequences of pandemic quarantining. There is some push to create paid parking, co-working space, or affordable housing in the undeveloped land owned by EDIC just downhill from the Station.
Landfill Solar generation continues to be a major undertaking. A bit of explanation will help at this point. EDIC created the project, which benefits the town in three ways: 1) it generates heavily discounted electricity for all municipal operations and also subsidizes electricity for a number of affordable housing units; 2) the operating company, Citizens Energy, pays the town a ground lease for the use of the property; and 3) Citizens Energy pays the town a percentage of the revenue it receives from the sale of additional energy. The first landfill solar operation has been quite successful. Known as Phase I, it has been generating 4.3 megawatts annually since 2016, giving the town combined savings and revenue of about $800,000 per year.
In all, over the 20-year lease, these benefits amount to millions, and their division between the general fund and EDIC has been the subject of energetic discussions in recent months. Once the entangling windmill issue was laid to rest, EDIC and the other parties were eager to proceed with Phase II, which will generate an additional two megawatts. In negotiating the second phase, the question of allocation of proceeds between the town’s general fund and the EDIC budget arose and became somewhat thorny. The town argues that it needs the entire resource to relieve pressures on the general fund; but EDIC responds that the entire project, including its upcoming second phase, came about through EDIC efforts, and the town should reinvest much of it in EDIC’s demonstrably productive work. This discussion has been sidetracked by an alternate proposal, spearheaded by member Mike Galasso, to use the solar ground lease revenues to create a small business recovery loan fund in response to economic damage from the pandemic. Complications have ensued, and the outcome remains unclear.
EDIC is very actively involved with the development of fiberoptic high speed internet in two separate projects. One involves connecting Main Street businesses to OpenCape’s fiberoptic network. EDIC obtained grants and set up a revolving loan fund to help area businesses connect at minimal cost. It also forwarded $50,000 to underwrite a feasibility study of the community’s interest in establishing a municipally owned fiberoptic high speed internet provider, comparable to and in competition with Comcast and Verizon. Early reports are that interest is high. If the project advances, EDIC will be involved – and will reap a small percentage as a management fee.
EDIC owns several marginal plots of real estate, and is seeking to put them to better use, a process that trickles along. One option would be to develop a co-working facility of some kind. EDIC funded a feasibility study, but part way through the study the consulting firm called a halt to the project, and it remains in limbo.
Longstanding involvement with affordable housing development is rather on the back burner for the time being, though there is support for the movement toward form-based zoning, which will, if and as it emerges, have a major influence on land use, including housing.
Working its way toward the end of a 3-year extension is the Technology Park Development Agreement between EDIC, representing Falmouth, and the Cape Cod Commission. There have been efforts to help Tech Park owners to organize in their own interest, but that has been slow going, and there are distractions aplenty. The deadline is late February, 2021.
Certain members and staff continue actively monitoring opportunities to partner with local, regional, and state projects. Some of these are sponsorships such as the recent one for the Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative of New England’s grant application to the Mass Seaport Council. Members Simmler and Galasso keep an eye on state agencies that have grant funds, and along with the office staff, they position EDIC to apply in a timely fashion, and whenever possible, include management or administrative fees as part of proposal packages.
In summary, EDIC is a highly functional organization that renders significant benefits to the Falmouth community and economy. Most of its members and staff operate at a high level, with pride in its accomplishments and ambitious pursuit of continuing development. Were it not for the able staff, it would be in danger of over-reaching, and it is wise to remain vigilant about its own finances. Within those capacities, it balances a variety of complex projects with creativity, practical knowledge, and the broader public interest.
Carol B. Chittenden, LWVF Observer