On Tuesday night, I attended a meeting of the Groton Planning Commission. On the agenda was the application to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter at the intersection of Tollgate Road and Route 184, approximately one mile east of the existing Wal-Mart store and only five miles from the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Waterford. Amidst all the interesting and revealing information about water quality, storm water runoff, and the deleterious effect such land use could have (most likely, would have) on the Groton reservoir, not once did I hear anyone discuss the wisdom of such a large non-basic sector development project, especially one with such potentially high environmental costs. A few speakers alluded to it, but the Commission gave the impression that a judgment call on that subject was beyond the scope of their mandate. Really? I was under the impression that I elected the people who appointed this Commission so that they could make these types of judgment calls for me, a citizen whom they represent. But, I digress...
The point I wish to make is this: every community requires basic sector economic entities and acquires non-basic sector businesses. What exactly do I mean by that? Every town, area, or region of the country needs the capital investment made by manufacturing, agriculture, mining, research, etc. to bring “new money” onto the economic playing field. In Groton, our basic sector businesses are Pfizer, Electric Boat, and the military. As this engine of foundational investment creates an income stream, other businesses come onto the playing field as outlets for that income, places where it can be spent: restaurants, retail stores, car dealerships, and the like. Examples of local non-basic sector businesses are Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Stop & Shop, and (believe it or not) the casino. Though a large employer, the casino depends on the disposable income generated by basic sector jobs; therefore, it cannot be categorized as a basic sector economic entity.
A crucial component of responsible urban planning in any given community is to balance these basic and non-basic sectors, meaning that the outlets for spending (both discretionary and non-discretionary) should not outpace the existing/potential capital investment. When this does occur, blight can begin in the form of empty retail space or abandoned restaurants because excess capacity exists in the non-basic sector. An argument could be made that this phenomenon is already occurring in Groton, as evidenced, for example, by the empty Eblens location, the abandoned IHOP restaurant, and the space vacated by the Pizza Palace, just to name a few.
A more compelling point of discussion would be the tenuous nature of our foundational basic sector businesses. Pfizer has repeatedly restructured their operations, putting our community through several rounds of layoffs that saw employees both enter and exit our economic region. Electric Boat was hit hard by major downsizing efforts in both the 1980’s and 1990’s, and continues to live at the mercy of defense budget approvals and the awarding of military contracts even today. The submarine base narrowly escaped complete closure in the last round of BRAC and remains susceptible to this threat. What is the town doing to solidify the place of these companies and governmental agencies in our community? What is the town doing to attract more basic sector businesses to Groton? And why, if the local economic underpinnings are so precariously balanced does the Director of Planning and Development sound so eager to sacrifice our reservoir in a crusade to create excess retail capacity in the form of a Wal-Mart Supercenter when the current Wal-Mart is such an excellent match to the current level of capital investment?
I respectfully submit that the Office of Planning and Development should focus less on building a new Wal-Mart and more on basic sector development. Thank you.
Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.