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City, chamber work to answer questions on economic growth

Date: 12/8/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Methods to propel economic development have been an ongoing debate for those in Agawam. The question town officials and business owners want answered is, "What kind of development?"

The West of the River Chamber (WRC) of Commerce enlisted the assistance of Western New England College's (WNEC) Polling Institute to conduct a survey to find out exactly that. Additional efforts to further economic development have also been underway via the town-sponsored Comprehensive Economic Development Study conducted by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. Results of survey and study will be made public at receptions on Dec. 10 and Dec. 14, respectively.

"I am delighted that the people of Agawam have had the opportunity through the Chamber's poll to express their desire to have commercial development in Agawam," Mayor Susan Dawson said. "This will allow our town to better meet the needs of our residents and it has been confirmed by the study that we are following the will of the people."

WNEC's five-minute telephone survey, conducted Sept. 20 through 23, asked 757 adult residents about their retail needs as well as their thoughts on the possible development of Tennis Road.

According to the executive summary, "The survey revealed a significant desire to see additional retail development in Agawam. Just more than one-half of adults surveyed said they were not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the variety of stores and shops currently available in Agawam."

Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said they support commercial growth, 43 percent of which want discount department stores.

When asked about development of Tennis Road properties, 38 percent of those surveyed were strongly in support of the idea. Of those who did not support the development, 42 percent wanted the land left alone, while 22 percent asked that the land be used for recreation.

"I'm very confident that these numbers are an accurate snapshot of the opinions in Agawam," Tim Vercellotti, co-director of the WNEC Polling Institute, said.

Michael Grandfield, chair of the WRC Board of Directors, and Mark Haynes, chair of WRC's Economic Development Task Force, told Reminder Publications the survey provides town officials with an "unbiased" account of the will of residents.

"We are here to provide information for good decision making," Grandfield said.

He added the survey helps to discredit certain misnomers. "There was some speculation that people didn't want the big box stores but the survey proves otherwise," Grandfield said.

The survey concluded two-thirds of those asked were in favor of having locally-owned stores as well as national retail chains.

"Economic development is important to everyone's business," Haynes said. "Retail [development] as well as the [development] of Tennis Road properties will benefit every business owner [through the] diversion of taxes . The reason the Tennis Road property was an area of interest [in the survey] was because there's always been a lot of talk about that area and how to use that property. We need to make sure that's what the town wanted."

The results of WNEC's survey will be presented on Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. at Agawam Middle School.

The results of the Comprehensive Economic Development Study will be shared with the public on Dec. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Agawam Public Library, 750 Cooper St.