City Forges Partnership with UMD Business School Around New Bedford Economy

By Eileen Peacock Dr. Peacock,
Dean of the Charlton College of Business at UMass Dartmouth

The Charlton College of Business recently partnered with New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang’s office on an exciting approach to problem solving. In January 2007, a group of 14 UMass Dartmouth master of business administration students worked closely with the mayor’s office and the New Bedford Economic Development Council to bring concepts of innovation and creativity to real-world problems. It was a fine example of a learning partnership between a city and a business school, one that generated fresh ideas and gave a group of graduate business students a chance to apply lessons learned to urban problems.

As dean of the Charlton College of Business, I worked with Mayor Lang to help jump-start this program. I appreciate Mayor Lang’s willingness to allow our students to use the city as their laboratory. Our business graduate students worked hard to give value to the city. They met every evening for three weeks in City Hall, occupying the fourth-floor loft space, listening, thinking, brainstorming, planning, creating and innovating around three projects associated with three inner-city business districts.

The challenge for the class was to generate ideas for improving the business climate and infrastructure for the North End, South End and central business districts of New Bedford.

The students had a fast-paced three weeks to learn the concepts of creativity and then to apply what they had learned. Their leader was Garry Clayton, a visiting professor with a variety of experiences in the application of strategic and innovation concepts. He was an ideal professor for this class because he is not a native of SouthCoast and therefore came to us with the fresh perspective needed to innovate. Professor Clayton challenged the students to think “outside the box.” The students responded well by developing great ideas that ultimately could benefit the business environment of the city.

Three general approaches emerged, using the strengths of each district while looking at new opportunities to pursue.

The North End group decided to leverage off the existing strengths. For example, one group proposed the creation of a “Little Portugal,” drawing upon the strengths of existing business arrangements and the proximity of the water.

As is the case when bright people are encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions, brainstorming sparked many exciting ideas. The merits of beautification projects along Interstate 195 and Route 18 were discussed. The idea was that creative landscaping would be welcoming to visitors approaching the city. Better and increased signs to highlight what the city has to offer also would draw visitors who would spend their money in the city. Some thought that an open-air pavilion in River Front Park to host parties and music events would attract crowds to the area. Other ideas included a bike path along the waterfront, possibly interlocking with the Fairhaven bike path; and developing Acushnet Avenue, making it for pedestrians only, creating an entrance to the area. Students also examined the idea of creating city ordinances to enhance attractiveness of the area and align city departments to the goals of business development to ensure upkeep of revitalization efforts.

The Central business group looked for opportunities to connect the administrative, heritage and waterfront areas. For example, this group suggested creating additional green space to link areas of that district.

For the longer term, our students envisioned creation of dormitory space for university students and development of a new library with a cultural center offering creative spaces for podcasting, art studios and drama practice areas. These ideas would increase foot traffic in the city and allow small businesses to flourish.

The South End group focused on creating attractive areas and finding ways to inform visitors about its amenities. It was suggested that a “gateway” could inform visitors about beaches and waterfront areas.

Again, beautification was a theme. The Cove Road beach area, the mills on Rodney French Boulevard, the vacant parcel on Orchard Street, the Orpheum Theater and an overall maintenance beautification plan were all fair game. Our students discussed plans for Cove Road that included creating a park where the hurricane barrier stands, hiding the barrier with gently sloping areas, creating an amphitheater, and on the water side a boardwalk, and a floating boat dock for people to enjoy the water.

The mills on East Rodney French Boulevard were seen as a perfect place for a school offering trade training. And the restoration of the Orpheum Theater, along with enhanced dining opportunities, was discussed as a key to bringing visitors in the evenings.

The class also made some global recommendations, such as extending the bike path from the North End to the South End and adding trolley service to connect parts of the city that are divided by highways.

These MBA students came away from the class exhilarated by their work and interaction with city officials, recognizing that with some creative approaches, there is great potential and great business development opportunities for the city of New Bedford.

Date of Publication: February 14, 2007 on Page A16