Tag Archives: business

Worcester needs a new approach to doing business with businesses!

By Michael Gaffney, candidate for Worcester City Councilor at Large

The City of Worcester needs a new approach to doing business and leaders with fresh ideas.

The City of Worcester is replete with empty commercial buildings and store fronts that are abandoned.  Commercial property owners now choose to demolish their buildings and turn them into parking lots or simply refuse to update their retail establishments.  Other than Worcester North, retail has largely left the City for nearby towns.

The commercial tax rate in the City of  is in excess of thirty percent (30%.)  Surrounding towns have a commercial tax rate of around seventeen percent (17%.)  It is clear why businesses have left and others choose not to open in the City.

The ideas to resolve the lack of commercial business in the City of Worcester have been limited to massive central planning projects such as the Theater District (to which citizen input was ignored) or the time-worn notion that the City of Worcester just needs to promote itself better.  For decades the City of Worcester’s politicians have chased the latest gimmick that will “revitalize” the City.  Past costly projects that would “save” the City have included the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets, the forgotten Arts District project and the Union Station project that is now a multi-million dollar banquet facility with an underutilized parking garage.

Where we currently have over a billion dollars in unfunded pension and pension health liabilities, another billion dollars in EPA requirements to benefit the Narragansett Bay clean up (for those that can afford to live in Newport and Jamestown) and are understaffed in our police department, fire department, and other services we simply cannot cut commercial tax rates.  Our residential tax rate is nineteen percent (19%) while surrounding towns are around seventeen percent (17%.)  The continued increase in residential taxes will result in residents leaving the City as well.

My plan is to focus on growing our tax base and taking a fresh approach to combatting our challenges with commercial growth. Currently, the City immediately increases the assessed value of commercial property as soon as the owner improves it.  The owner has to pay increased taxes as well as additional costs to pay off whatever loan they needed to make the improvements in the hopes of attracting tenants.  This is a disincentive and a significant driver of the increasing number of buildings in poor condition and abandoned. With the current commercial tax rate, there is little incentive for investment in existing commercial property and inhibits commercial growth in the City.

My plan would give commercial real estate holders an incentive to reinvest in the commercial property by fixing their taxes to the base (current) year for a period of time commensurate with the investment.  For example, a commercial real estate holder invests $5 million in a building to improve it for tenants; I would suggest setting the taxable income on the property before improvements for a period of years to justify the return on investment.  This will help to improve the building, employ workers to improve the building and bring in commercial tenants  to the City of Worcester.

My plan would provide an incentive for owners to improve their buildings, but would also spur commercial growth while not lowering the City’s commercial tax revenue as it would remain the same, and then grow significantly in just a few short years.  Right now, the City of Worcester’s commercial base is retracting and being bought up by non-taxpaying non-profits.  This trend must be reversed or the City will not be able to maintain its debt obligations or services.

As commercial tenants come to the City, they employ workers, buy local goods, and create demand for more commercial real estate that then brings more tax revenue.  Further, by creating jobs, people have a place to work and earn money, often leading them to purchase homes and pay taxes.  They will frequent local businesses while living here.  Finally, we may actually keep some of our transient college students in the City when we can offer them post-graduation employment.

Let’s take a new approach and bring fresh ideas to grow the City of Worcester and benefit our residents.


Vote for Hilda Ramirez – Worcester School Committee!

Hilda Ramirez is working to earn a seat on the Worcester School Committee.

With her ivy league education, running the Worcester Youth Center and her business background, this savvy Latina may be just what Worcester kids need!

By Mara Sindoni

While articles in other papers debate the lack of diversity in spite of district representation in the Worcester City Council and resistance by current Worcester School Committee members to adding district representation to the Worcester School Committee – all eyes should focus on the exceptional candidacy for School Committee of Hilda Ramirez.

Hilda is just what the kids of Worcester need! Ramirez’s background includes a B.A. in Business from Lesley College and a Master’s Degree in Education from Harvard University. After 16 years in the financial industry in Boston, Ramirez became a home-owner in Worcester and, in 2003, founded Ritmos Academy, a Dance, Art and Music School with fully-licensed Preschool and Afterschool programs. Hilda is presently the Executive Director of the Worcester Youth Center.

Ramirez’s recommendations on ways to improve Worcester’s schools are based on her personal experience and professional expertise. While our cities flounder and our international educational rankings plunge when compared to 70 other countries – the USA kids are 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading – blame is unfairly set on the influx of foreigners.

How can it be, then, that a Spanish-speaking Hilda Ramirez could enter an English-only New York City 3rd grade and by 5th grade be advanced to 6th grade math and 8th grade English classes?

What was the magic here?

Hilda Ramirez knows from personal experience what Worcester’s two thirds Asian/Black/Hispanic student population needs to succeed academically.

Hilda’s first teacher in New York City was Latina. She went to Hilda’s home, shared experiences with Hilda’s mother, and made three specific recommendations on how to help Hilda succeed in America: (1) no Spanish TV, (2) complete homework daily and (3) go to the library.

Hilda’s Spanish-speaking mother did all three!

A disgruntled older brother chaperoned 10-year-old Hilda to the library every day. As a result, HILDA GOT HOOKED ON BOOKS – books in English! She and her brother won all the spelling bees. Hilda now emphasizes the need for teacher/parent communication and rapport. She proposes PARENT ACADEMIES. Studies have shown that consistent parental involvement is a major factor in determining a student’s academic success.

FULL-DAY PRESCHOOL WOULD BE IDEAL. Hilda had certain advantages that some Worcester school children lack. The daughter of garment-workers in NYC who wanted the best for their children, she had a happy, structured home-life. There was a rich culture left behind in the Dominican Republic and Hilda hopes newcomers to the US will retain the languages, arts and family and social values of their parents’ country of origin. But at the same time SCHOOL READINESS IS ESSENTIAL!

And that includes, not only intellectual and language readiness, but also patterns of behaviour, cooperativeness, structure, responsibility and expectations. Ramirez is hopeful that Worcester might zero-in on funding from President Obama’s ini-tiative for pre-schools.

In the meantime, she recommends that all early education teachers, including Worcester providers such as Edward Street Child Services, Guild of St. Agnes, Rainbow Child Development and the Head Start program be required to use the Core Curriculum used by Worcester Public Schools.

Her version of “no child left behind” is to move students forward when they are ready and be GROUPED BY ABILITY NOT GRADE, just as she was as a child in New York City. High school students should be pushed into Advanced Placement courses. As many as are ready should substitute college courses for high school classes, not just at Quinsigamond but also at Worcester State, Holy Cross and Clark.

In addition to college-readiness students need hands-on experience in the work-a-day world. We have many resources here. PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS with Worcester’s businesses, health industry, scientific, academic and cultural community should provide job experiences and internships. This too comes from Hilda Ramirez’s personal experience. At the age of 14, she was paid $8 an hour to work in the School Superin-tendent’s office doing chores such as filing, one evening a week during the school year and full-time summers.

Young Hilda knew how to work. Do Worcester’s school children know how to work?

On her first day as Executive Director of the Worcester Youth Center, Ramirez’s first action was to get the kids off the sofa and dump it! An old upright piano with keys that looked like someone had walked on or taken a hammer to them also got dumped. There is a new recording studio with a programmable keyboard. The place is spotless. The walls are decorated with recent student artwork. There is pride and a pleasant, cooperative atmosphere.

“When we were kids we were busy!” says Hilda. “We didn’t ‘hang.’ WE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT IT WAS TO HANG OUT!”

Hilda hired a tutor at the Youth Center to help teens get their diplomas. The tutor is a lot more than a tutor. She is a teen-talking teenager herself, not an authority figure but a role-model with good grades, She is herself being helped at a young age with a JOB, as Hilda was helped by working during high school in the school superintendent’s office. Hilda Ramirez wants Worcester high school students to graduate on time, fully prepared for college or a job.

IN THIS 21ST CENTURY GLOBAL ECONOMY A YOUNG AND DIVERSE POPULATION IS AN ASSET, provided that those that get an education work and stay here. Unlike Worcester, many American cities are on a downturn due to an increasingly elderly population and a declining tax base. Worcester, on the other hand, has fine colleges full of young people.

We have, in the WPS, a majority minority school system: Asian/Black (some African)/Hispanic school population, plus Albanians, Middle Easterners, Russians, with languages and a diaspora that amount to a significant POTENTIAL IN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS! We could and should have a downtown more like Harvard Square, with great restaurants on Main Street and things to do, books, films, music, clothing, crafts, art and more performances in our theatres of music and dance from other countries. Our location in the center of New England, with CSX and an underused airport is propitious. If Worcester educates its diverse public school population as it can and should, and retains these and our college graduates, Worcester will prosper.

We need someone on the Worcester School Committee who knows how to make that happen.

Hilda Ramirez is that person!

Big biz?

By Richard Schmitt

The Boston Globe reports that big business has recently begun to cooperate with President Barack Obama and his team. The CEO of Dow Chemical praises the president’s efforts to control carbon emissions. The healthcare industry is joining Sen. Kennedy to write a healthcare reform bill. The financial services industry is cooperating with representative Barney Frank in regulating banks and other financial institutions.

What a change! In the early 1990s President Bill Clinton and First Lady, now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton developed a grand scheme to reform health care for all Americans. The goal was to make sure that everyone had health insurance and that the cost of healthcare would be under control. A coalition of physicians, hospitals, health insurance companies and drug companies mounted a major campaign and shot down that project. With evidence of global warming growing steadily, the government has been trying to regulate carbon emissions and has met with unbending opposition from chemical companies as well as car manufacturers. Banks, mortgage companies, hedge funds have used their access to the then Republican dominated Congress to loosen restraints on the industry. We now experience the effect of this deregulation in the current economic crisis. For a while they made money hand over fist. Now ordinary Americans have to pay the price. Continue reading Big biz?