Orange Selectboard names town’s first community development director

  • Orange Town Offices

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2019 9:45:28 PM
Modified: 11/8/2019 9:45:15 PM

ORANGE — The town will soon have someone on board whose sole purpose is fostering economic development, seeking state and federal grants while looking for ways to entice businesses to come to Orange.

The Selectboard voted Wednesday night to hire a full-time community development director, a position created at the Annual Town Meeting in June amid another year of budgetary woes and near-stagnant economic growth.

The Selectboard voted to extend a job offer to Alec Wade, an Acton native who attended community college before studying at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He pursued a degree in sustainable community development before transitioning to a “four plus one” program, an accelerated degree program allowing Wade to obtain a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in regional planning from the university. Wade said he concentrated in economic development for his master’s degree, and also obtained a graduate certificate in aging policy and public health.

Wade had been interviewed for the job earlier in the evening, along with Glen Ohlund, director of community development at the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Wade said he “fell in love” with government work through his education and work experience, especially as an intern with the town of Concord, where he worked on a community development plan with town officials.

“I take more of a democratic management style where the best approach to a project of that magnitude is to do it in a team setting,” Wade said. “I think the best approach to it, especially when initiating, is to put together a team of business owners, active citizens and local government workers that can all weigh in together and ensure the proper direction of a long-range, comprehensive plan.”

Wade said he would be an accessible community development director for both residents and government officials. An idea he has is harnessing his relationship with UMass to bring in interns to help with the administrative work of the job, freeing himself up to do more outreach.

Wade said Orange should emphasize “eco-tourism,” given the area’s natural beauty, and focus on development along the Millers River, which runs through downtown. He also sees the interest in Orange from marijuana companies as a positive “influx of industry.”

Grants, specifically the state’s small-town community housing grants, are something Wade said he would research, and he also said “event-based” income, while risky, could be a way to bring short-term revenue increases to Orange by hosting festivals and other events.

“Event-based income, whether it’s through fairs or community activities, is a great way of raising income for projects you have prioritized,” he said.

The position of full-time community development director was created this year, when voters chose to combine the treasurer and town administrator positions to free up money for the new position. Town Administrator Gabriele Voelker took on the role of treasurer, and $70,000 was set aside in the budget for a community development director’s yearly salary.

At the Annual Town Meeting, Selectboard member Bill Wrigley said the town faced an “existential crisis” without community development — since 2012, costs have increased by about $605,000 per year on average for Orange, while revenues have only increased by about $231,252 per year in the same time frame.

Wade was selected after a search committee, set up by the Selectboard, vetted candidates for community development director and presented finalists to be interviewed in public, much like the recent town administrator and police chief hiring processes.

He was praised by members of the Selectboard for his “energy,” as well as coming in prepared with ideas like hiring interns.

“I think that (Ohlund) has good and deep experience in certain areas, but I don’t think he has the skill (Wade) has,” said Selectboard Vice Chair Jane Peirce. “I really liked (Wade’s) energy, and I think he had some very good and specific ideas.”

“He’s got a lot of great ideas, he was very up front,” Selectboard member Tom Smith said.

Selectboard Chair Ryan Mailloux agreed, and said that Ohlund has lots of experience, but that it is mostly related to housing, whereas Wade has recent experience as a student and intern working directly on community development in areas other than housing.

“I feel he will hit the ground running,” Mailloux said.

During Ohlund’s interview, he said he’s been involved in economic and community development for “25, almost 30, years now,” and has worked on community development in Boston neighborhoods, large real estate projects in Manchester, N.H., and directly in Franklin County.

“I do feel that my heart really is in commercial district revitalization and commercial real estate deals,” Ohlund said.

Despite the praise for Wade from some members of the Selectboard, the decision to offer him the job was not unanimous. Mailloux, Peirce and Smith voted to offer the job to Wade, while Wrigley voted against offering Wade the job after explaining why.

“With all due respect to Alec, he has almost no experience here,” Wrigley said. “(Ohlund) has been involved in all manner of community development, not just housing.”

Wrigley said Ohlund’s references and résumé are “better than most,” and that he would rather look at the other 26 candidates vetted by the search committee before voting for Wade over Ohlund.

“It’s not even close for me,” Wrigley said. “Having said that, I respect the majority.”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.


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