Editor’s Note: SOURCE asked all three candidates on Thursday afternoon to email by Saturday, July 24, in their own words, what is the #1 issue facing the City of Framingham and “3 specific ways” they would fix the issue, if elected Mayor in November.
By Mayor Yvonne Spicer
FRAMINGHAM – At the core of building a more resilient and prosperous city is economic development. Framingham needs to keep pace with the surrounding cities, rapidly growing businesses, and innovative economies.
The pandemic has exposed Framingham’s vulnerabilities that all need to be addressed comprehensively, inclusive of equitable housing, food insecurity, and health disparities.
All of these challenges have reinforced the need to continue growing and diversifying our local economy. Throughout the pandemic, cities and towns across the country that heavily rely on single-industry employers have faced disastrous challenges including unemployment and hunger.
While many Framingham families have struggled during the pandemic, the diverse mix of business size and type has fueled our economic recovery. As we move forward, we must continue working to diversify our business composition by supporting our medium and small businesses and attracting larger companies. We need to continue working to diversify our innovative economy. We will do this by investing in small and micro businesses, particularly in communities with less access to capital; repurposing and reimagining vacant plazas and office spaces; and targeting support for business development.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Framingham’s economy is growing inclusive of retail, restaurants, financial services, life sciences, and biotechnology companies which are all looking to grow in our community. Since the beginning of this year, several new businesses have opened their doors in Framingham such as Saxonville Burrito, 135 Grill, The Buckley, and CVS in Nobscot.
As we look to the future, we must double down on the steps we have taken to support our businesses during this challenging time and continue to make Framingham attractive to a variety of new opportunities. We have streamlined the permitting process and made procedures for opening a new business easier by moving some of the application processes online.
In addition the reorganization of the department of planning, economic development and conservation has allowed city government to work more effectively and collaboratively.
Moving forward, we will continue our work with state and federal partners to secure funding and resources to support the growth and development of existing small businesses in our community and those looking to set up shop in Framingham in the future.
We also need to reimagine the possibilities for our vacant office buildings and plazas through rezoning and incentive programs. With the ongoing shift towards remote and flexible working arrangements, the demand for traditional office space is changing as well. Professionals are demanding work-life balance, looking to shorten commute times, and choosing to settle and raise their families in thriving communities with easy access to shopping, entertainment, and recreation in close proximity to their workplaces.
As neighboring MetroWest communities like Marlborough and Sudbury have developed complexes like Apex Drive and Meadow Walk that offer a balance of work and recreational amenities, Framingham has a similar opportunity to reimagine use of empty sites and underused office space for smart mixed-use development that will grow new businesses, create retirement housing, improve infrastructure, and attract capital to the city.
Similarly, we have an opportunity downtown to continue attracting a variety of businesses, as well as attracting more people to access our city center to enjoy restaurants, culture and shopping for a more vibrant, experience-rich downtown. We have all the infrastructure and diversity of Waltham’s Moody Street, but we need to further develop the diversity of our business mix and setup so that the new Framingham Station Steakhouse and the 135 Grill are in good company. Pho Dakao’s beautiful outdoor dining setup will benefit from increased foot traffic, which will inevitably come with more businesses making their sidewalks part of the shopping and dining experience.
Economic development is the heart and soul of every community, and new businesses bring new jobs for residents and new opportunities to enjoy our city. As we grow our business base, we will also attract more and a variety of businesses to Framingham, which in turn benefits our tax base and keeps our taxes modest.
As the unified City of Framingham, we stand poised to be the beneficiary of the state and federal resources to help us achieve these goals. We can achieve these goals by investing in small businesses, reimagining how we use vacant office spaces, and providing targeted support for business development.
Meanwhile, this development must take an equitable and green economic lens to ensure that all Framingham residents share in the coming prosperity.
I firmly believe that economic development is key for the city’s prosperity, for forming strong relationships with our business community, and will be my first priority in my second term as your Mayor of Framingham.