Friday, September 19, 2008

Mayor Anna Little on Economic Development: The Future of Downtown Highlands.....

The HBP has done a terrific job of making Highlands a destination.  The signature events spanning most of the year draw patrons to town and expand the identity of our town from a clamming or summer recreation town to a year round festival style vacation town and a varied seafood and dining location.

This year the water taxi and the concept of an expanded water transportation system has drawn positive attention to Highlands in spite of the ongoing Route 36 bridge project.  Most recently, Highlands was the subject of a NY Times Real Estate article where water based transportation was noted as well as acceptable schools, close beaches and hiking, biking trails, and valuable, but moderately priced real estate investment opportunities.  Notes about the history of Highlands included not only clamming, but also our signature event:  the Clamfest.

Today we are ready for the next phase of economic development.  Highlands is an exceptional place to do business.  We want to encourage economic growth in new areas adding new types of commercial uses in the Borough.  Our goal is to create a self-sufficient self-sustaining economy in Highlands.  Professional Services as commercial uses are key to achieving this goal.  Professional service businesses create little to no impact to residents, but result in an increased demand for services already existing in Highlands.  Professional service businesses may also create a demand for new services not already existing in Highlands, thus sparking start up businesses to fill corporate or personal needs of the workforce.  Professional service businesses also create high-quality jobs for people living and working in Highlands.

To attract professional services to Highlands we must maintain and expand Water Based Transportation for travel to and from Highlands.  We should also connect to existing railroad transportation in the area.  We may have to adjust the Master Plan and zoning regulations to permit additional affordable workforce housing, and to encourage downtown main street commercial buildings to convert residential space into office suites located out of the flood zone on Bay Avenue.  We should begin by creating a project that turns the mind toward business while thinking of Highlands as well as using the identity Highlands has already established through the HBP.  The Borough Council will soon be discussing the possibility of establishing Wi-Fi (wireless internet access) for use by recreational visitors in the downtown business district as well as recreational boaters and beach goers.  This novelty will not only improve quality of life downtown in Highlands, but might inspire thoughts about opening corporate offices here.  Corporate offices downtown would allow adults living in Highlands to take better paying jobs closer to home.  Quality of life would improve, because adults could live and work in the same town and children could be managed better because Mom and Dad work close to home.  The hope for high school graduates to gain work experience here in Highlands that expands wage-earning potential might lead more kids to seek higher education as a means toward even greater professional accomplishments.

But there's more.  Business incubation efforts of public-private cooperatives in Monmouth County and the possibility of Fortune 500 Companies taking advantage of research opportunities provided by the incubators might help Highlands encourage professional service businesses downtown because of available low-cost workforce housing for not only incubator participants, but also the spin-off corporations created once research results in successful applications.  The Highlands Borough Public Library project I am working on could include adult education programs in cooperation with area colleges or Henry Hudson Regional High School, helping residents in Highlands obtain qualifications necessary to fulfill job requirements in professional service or administrative positions.

Professional Services workforce might require daily lunch, florist services (for secretaries, office environment, and take home bouquets) retail, laundry and takeout food service.  Professional Services workforce might require health industry services within walking distance from the workplace, as well as workout and nutrition education services to comply with workplace insurance requirements.  Technology support services, and personal electronic device retail options might also be in demand.  General retail shops and boutiques might also spring up due to the need for convenience to the work place.  The possibilities are endless.

I have floated the idea of a marketplace at the old Connor's Beach location where Seastreak LLC now operates.   The marketplace could showcase shellfish distribution and the Highlands clam brand, while providing boutique showcases for all restaurants and businesses in the Borough.  Perhaps we could bring back the Carousel to Highlands and a two to three level parking garage, depending upon the height of adjacent condominiums.  A showcase of Highlands history and a nature walk on the beach with Ferry Terminal to complete the development.  A concept with a broad spectrum, but a cornerstone for economic development on the north end of town.

Development in appropriate areas of the Borough to accommodate workforce housing needs while preserving the recreational appearance of the town might help lower property taxes generally.  New business uses created in the downtown area might increase the number of properties subject to the BID assessment or increase the assessed value of those already included, thus providing better budgetary options for broader HBP programming.  A facade program and more landscaping improvements throughout the Borough would be great future projects.  Seminars about business use diversification, and explaining interdependent use examples would help businesses brainstorm about refining their uses to help each other.

Diverse economies which consist of interdependent uses are the healthiest.  Each use drives demand for the next in a circular fashion.  If we accomplish this type of diversification including professional service commercial uses and follow through on Clam Distribution to maximum potential I think we'll have accomplished affordable living in Highlands Borough and an excellent quality of life while respecting Highlands' history, maintaining our identity, and enhancing our year round lifestyle in the Borough.

Stay tuned to for future updates and feel free to join us in making this vision a reality.  There are always many opportunities for the public to get involved.  You may contact me or any member of the Highlands Borough Council via email using or by telephone at 732-872-1224.

It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve you as mayor.  You continuously inspire me.  I am truly grateful.

Mayor Anna C. Little, Esq.