August 5 - 12, 1998

Southside Media Homepage

This Week's Hartford News

Hartford News: 8/5 - 8/12

Hartford News ARCHIVES

El Reportero

Hartford Tonite!

Advertising Information


Merchant Coordinators Unite Against Proposed Overhaul of System

by Andy Hart

A recommendation to completely restructure the City's Merchant Coordinator Program is drawing protest from a coalition of local Merchant Associations. The recommendation, which would replace Hartford's 13 Merchant Coordinators with five "Neighborhood Business Development Specialists," is part of an overall plan to restructure the City's economic development system. The plan was issued in June by the Capitol Region Growth Council, which has been contracted by the City of Hartford to restructure its economic development function.

In a letter to City officials dated July 10, representatives from 11 of the Merchant Associations said they want a chance to present their argument for retention of the program to City Council in an open public forum.

Merchant Coordinators are paid approximately $30,000 a year, which they receive from their respective Merchant Associations. The Associations in turn receive City funding to finance the Coordinator program. The Merchant Coordinators provide a variety of services, such as technical assistance, marketing campaigns, community liaison and help in obtaining loans.

The Neighborhood Business Specialists recommended by the Growth Council would receive an annual salary of approximately $45,000 said Bob Santy, Vice President of the Growth Council, and would have broader responsibilities and be more accountable than the current Merchant Coordinators. Santy is also recommending that the loan programs offered by the various merchant associations should be made more uniform.

Santy added that, while the exact territories the Neighborhood Business Specialists would serve has yet to be determined, right now he suggesting that the North End, West End, South End, Park Street and Downtown areas each have their own specialist.

Marjorie Morrissey, Merchant Coordinator for Business for Downtown Hartford, said that while the Merchant Coordinator Program does have room for improvement, the changes recommended in the Growth Council report are too drastic.

Morrissey said the Merchant Coordinators and the Business Associations they serve want to play an active role in reorganizing Hartford's economic development system. "We feel very strongly that we can be a part of the solution and we have the hands-on knowledge to do it. We are the eyes and ears on the street in terms of reporting the ideas and needs of small businesses to city hall," she said.

Santy responded to the reservations expressed by the Merchant Associations with a letter of his own to City Manager Saundra Kee Borges on July 16. In it, Santy agreed that the Merchant Coordinators have benefitted Hartford businesses but added, "The question is: are these coordinators performing functions of importance and interest to the City since the City is providing the financial resources. Our examination indicates that there is not a good connection between the City's financial expenditure and whether the City benefits from that expenditure. Coordinators may perform important roles, more appropriately funded by the Associations themselves."

Santy said that if the City is funding the Merchant Coordinator program then the Coordinators should primarily be responsible to the City, not the Merchant Associations. He added that the Merchant Associations do not represent the city's entire business community. Retail establishments make up the bulk of the associations' membership and manufacturing companies are under-represented, he said. The new Neighborhood Business Development Specialists would be responsible for all businesses within their given districts, said Santy.

Fran Reale, Merchant Coordinator for the Wethersfield Avenue Merchants Association, agreed that Santy and the Growth Council have raised some valid questions about the Merchant Coordinators program but, like Morrissey, she feels that much more discussion is needed on the subject before any final decisions are made. A great deal depends on how the City ultimately decides to restructure its Department of Economic Development, she said.

Douglas Andrews, President of the Upper Albany Merchants Association, also said Santy has raised "some very good, very valid" questions. He said five Neighborhood Business Specialists might be enough to handle the entire city, provided all neighborhoods are covered equally. "I'm not sure we can have a coordinator for every little commercial strip. That kind of money isn't out there," he said.

However, many Merchant Coordinators feel that the new system would leave a number of businesses out in the cold. Mohamoud Ahmed, Merchant Coordinator of the Parkville Business Association, said Hartford's small businesses need someone who is, "on the street and not sitting back in some office downtown." Ahmed said many of the business owners in the Parkville area, especially recent immigrants from Vietnam, Laos and other countries, would not think of approaching city hall for assistance. He added that small business owners often simply do not have the time to attend community and city meetings, which could effect their business. The Merchant Coordinators attend the meetings, relay the views of the businesses they represent and then report back to the community, Ahmed said.

Luis Colon, Merchant Coordinator for the New Britain Avenue Merchants Association, agreed, saying, "The Merchant Coordinators provide a function which I feel would be very difficult for the city bureaucracy to provide. We're down in the trenches on a day to day basis."

Morrissey said reducing the city to five large business zones would ignore the different needs and resources of various neighborhoods. Santy said that, while the neighborhoods may be different, he is not sure that the actual needs of the businesses in those neighborhoods are all that different.

Councilman Mike McGarry said the City's economic development effort certainly needs improving but he would like to hear more discussion on how to preserve the Merchant Coordinator system in some form. "These people [the Merchant Coordinators] have established good relationships with city businesses. I think that's valuable to the City. I'd hate to see us just throw it all away."

Top of Page

The Southside Media Web Site is a creation of...

Town USA Eagle

"Your One Stop Source for Community and Business Information"