SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 22, 2013

A helping hand for Peabody businesses

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt went in-house choosing Julie Rydzewski as the city’s first “business liaison,” the person responsible for making it easier to make money in Peabody. Rydzewski, 30, grew up in Peabody and has worked at City Hall — initially as a high school intern — for three mayors, including Peter Torigian and Mike Bonfanti.

She chatted with The Salem News recently about her new position.

What’s your understanding of what this job is supposed to be like?

It’s about making the experience of conducting business here in Peabody a positive one. It’s eliminating frustration for businesses dealing with the city. They’ll know that their calls are answered. The object is to keep them here and keep them happy.

What sort of work did you do at City Hall to prepare you for this job?

Mayor Pete hired me in 1999. I worked up in his office. Every day he’d come in with a smile and a joke. After high school I had my heart set on a job at Hanscom Air Force Base. It was a job that included an hour of physical activity. But I was offered a job here in the treasurer’s office and I took it. After that I became the grants manager. And Mayor Bonfanti gave me a place on the Licensing Board. I think he was throwing me a challenge.

How so?

Well, I learned a lot about the laws. Which will help in this job. I familiarized myself with business practices and business in Peabody. And then there’s the connection with the state — I dealt with the ABCC (Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission) and I met with the attorneys around town who represent the liquor stores and restaurants. I’m a little sad to give that up. I liked working with the people on the Licensing Board.

Why did you want this job?

I think it will allow me to spread my wings a little, to get out more.

You like physical activity?

A lot of my best ideas come when I’m running downtown. And I like getting out of the office, going to a meeting.

You’ve always worked for government. How do you feel about business?

I’ve always wanted to go and open my own business. I still want to have a business someday. And I realize that business plays a pretty big role in Peabody. I’ve dealt with our businesses, too. They’re good people. When you call for donations for some worthy cause, it’s always the small businesses that donate. And always the same small businesses. I’ve been very impressed with that. I applaud the business community. They’re great.

People will say business is important, but they don’t always say why.

They’re a big part of our tax base. And the least we can do is be helpful.

Give me an example of how the city can be helpful.

Well, (Community Development Director) Karen (Sawyer) and I have been going downtown to talk with the merchants about the construction. (Downtown Peabody is under renovation, with new sidewalks, landscaping and consumer-friendly parking in the works.) Some of the businesses were very upset about delays. We explained the situation. But they also offered some good ideas. One thing a few have mentioned would be, in the summertime, to have some kind of sidewalk sale. Salem does things like that. Salem does great things with their downtown, and we want to do things with ours.

Is Peabody competing with Salem?

People go right through downtown Peabody to get to Salem. People can still go there, but we want them to stop here first.

Do you plan to do outreach?

One day a week I want to walk into stores and introduce myself, to get a sense of what’s out there. Keeping existing businesses here is very important. Also bringing in new ones in the downtown and in Centennial Park.