Mayor Ted Bettencourt told voters over and over during the campaign that if elected he would create a committee to "put together marketing and sell (to businesses) the tremendous opportunities we have in Peabody."
"I'm sick of this wait-and-see approach," he said during a mayoral debate in October.
That promised committee, what is now being called the Peabody Business Council, met for the first time April 4 in what was mostly a meet-and-greet. The 18-member group will begin brainstorming at its next meeting on May 2, the mayor said.
Most of the Business Council members — a combination of city officials, entrepreneurs, CEOs, business owners and the like — approached Bettencourt wanting to serve on the council, but the mayor did reach out to a few people, he said.
"I wanted a couple of elected officials who are business owners in the city," Bettencourt said, "and a nice cross-section of big businesses and small businesses, some in the industrial park and some downtown."
The goal for the council is to market the city to potential businesses and figure out how the city's current business climate can be improved, what assets are being ignored, and how to get more activity both in the Centennial Park industrial complex and in the downtown.
"We are going to talk to business owners in the city. We're going to find out what business owners are saying about the city, why they're coming here, why they're not and how we can help," Bettencourt said.
"Peabody does have a lot of selling points," he said. "We have great highway access. ... We do have a lower tax rate than surrounding communities. We have land available and places to build. We have a hardworking citizenry. We have a lot to offer that other places don't."
The Business Council will meet every month and will likely soon divide into subcommittees focusing on various parts of the mission.
"I think it's a great idea," said Deanne Healey, president of the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the council. "... In general, I think Peabody has an awful lot to offer, but we have not done a good job of communicating that to the rest of the world."
City Councilors Tom Gould and Dave Gravel, both business owners in the city, are also on the committee. Gould said he's happy the city is jump-starting efforts to attract more commercial development.
"You look at Beverly and the Cummings Center, and I think we (in Peabody) fell asleep for a little bit. It's nobody's fault," Gould said, adding that he's looking forward to serving on the Business Council.
Doug Rosenfeld, a vice president at Analogic, is another council member.
"I think this group is extremely well-qualified to help figure out how to best develop and promote the city of Peabody," he said. "The will to expand business investment is clearly present; we just need to focus our resources and come up with a good game plan."
Bettencourt said the work the city is doing to improve downtown is a big first step. A $1.5 million project to reconfigure and beautify Main Street is beginning this summer, and a second project to prevent downtown flooding could be next. Part of that project involves reconfiguring and improving Peabody Square.
"What (businesses) want to see is Peabody making an investment in itself, that we are serious about improving the downtown to make it more pedestrian-friendly, to beautify it and make it easier to park," Bettencourt said. "Investors want to see that we're making an investment here before they make an investment themselves."
The mayor also said he and the committee may turn to other communities, such as Salem and Beverly, to find out what worked well there. He said he has already also met with the mayor of Quincy on the same topic.
"The key is getting the word out there to the decision-makers that not only do we want you to come here or expand here, but we want to help you be successful," Bettencourt said.
PEABODY BUSINESS COUNCIL MEMBERS
Doug Rosenfeld, vice president of global human resources and administration at Analogic
Warren Waugh, co-founder of the Lyon-Waugh Auto Group
Mark Whiting, property manager for Simon Property Group (Northshore Mall)
Tom Walsh, funeral director at Conway, Cahill & Brodeur Funeral Home
Phil Richard, CEO of the Richard Insurance Agency
Jim Wingardner, executive director at Brooksby Village
Bob Croce, product director at Wellesley Information Systems
Bob Schneider, COO of Lahey Clinic Medical Center
Brian McCarthy, CEO of Energi; city councilor
Dave Gravel, CEO of GraVoc Associates Inc.; city councilor
Deanne Healey, president and CEO of the Peabody Chamber of Commerce
Ed Lomasney, assistant vice president business banking, Eastern Bank
Greg Klemmer, executive vice president, NAI Hunneman
Greg Regazzini, vice president and director of leasing, Combined Properties Inc.
Mike Zellen, vice president at North Shore Bank
Tom Gould, owner of Treadwell's Ice Cream; city councilor
Joel Saslaw, multimedia consultant, Idearc Media
Karen Sawyer, director of community development, city of Peabody