UMass students developing study of Orange’s economic development efforts

  • Ten students pursuing master’s degrees in regional planning at UMass. Amherst pose outside the Orange Armory on Aug. 28, during an initial site visit to Orange. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Jennifer Doherty, one of a group of 10 students pursuing master’s degrees in regional planning at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Center for Economic Development, at a farmers market in Orange during a site visit. Doherty and the other students are working with Orange Community Development Director Alec Wade to develop an Economic Development Self-Assessment Tool. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2020 3:56:19 PM
Modified: 10/16/2020 3:56:08 PM

ORANGE — The town has accepted an offer from University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate students to help prioritize plans Orange has crafted.

Ten second-year students pursuing master’s degrees in regional planning aim to create an Economic Development Self-Assessment Tool, or EDSAT. Through the UMass Center for Economic Development and the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, the university’s regional planning studio is working closely with Orange’s Community Development Director Alec Wade to provide an in-depth evaluation of the town’s economic development efforts.

This project’s title is “Energizing Orange’s Economy: Economic Development in the Friendly Town.”

One of the graduate students, Jennifer Doherty, 34, said Orange already has a master plan, an open space and recreation plan and a downtown revitalization plan.

“(An EDSAT) will give them the tools they need to prioritize some of those plans and find ways to move forward with them,” she explained.

According to Doherty, an EDSAT reviews community elements such as existing firms, transportation, complementary business services and educational opportunities. It can be described as a reusable combination of data, surveys and techniques that will allow a community to continuously assess and refine its economic development strategy. The point of an EDSAT, she said, is to provide a town with a detailed overview of how competitive its characteristics are for economic development while highlighting areas needing attention.

The students are developing an EDSAT tailored to Orange’s individual characteristics. To this end, they have explored the town, visiting the farmers market and the transfer station to chat with residents and gather input.

“We’ve enjoyed really getting to know Orange,” Doherty said. She added that the EDSAT could help make Orange more business friendly.

Doherty explained the UMass regional planning studio is similar to a group capstone class taken in the fall semester of students’ second year. The focus of that class is a project for a community.

The students are also trying a new approach — a participatory budgeting simulation, which will allow residents to vote on how they want to spend Orange’s marijuana tax revenue, projected to be roughly $60,000. The dispensary, Silver Therapeutics, is at 5 South Main St.

The simulations are expected to be held on Saturdays, Oct. 17 and Oct. 31, and registration is available on the project’s website, EnergizeOrangeMA.com, or through a phone call to 978-633-5377.

Wade said Orange got full funding from the state and the roughly $7,000 project is not costing the town a penny. He said the modest price tag is one of the benefits of working with an academic institution — quality work is conducted without the hefty cost of a consulting firm.

“It’s been a great experience. The students have done great work,” Wade said.

He said the students are expected to produce their written product outlining their findings by December. Wade, 26, has been Orange’s community development director for 11 months. He is working on his own master’s degree in regional planning and expects to defend his thesis this year.

Students will be available at the Orange Farmers Market to answer questions about the project, and short video updates on the project are airing on AOTV at 5 p.m. every other Wednesday. Residents and businesses can visit EnergizeOrangeMA.com to learn more about the project and participate in a survey on the amenities Orange offers.

Comments or questions are also accepted in a voicemail box at 978-633-5377 and via email at energizeorangema@gmail.com.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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