By Tom Shevlin
More than 50 applicants submitted their resumes to serve as the city's new director of economic development, but today the choice is down to three.
Earlier this week, the three finalists interviewed with City Manager Jane Howington before attending a reception at the Newport Yacht Club where the public and city staff were given the chance to meet them.
The reception, which was attended by representatives from non-profit organizations, the real estate industry, and city government, was aimed at familiarizing the candidates with those already involved in the city's disparate economic development efforts.
The event underscored the importance that the city has assigned to this position.
Charged with reshaping the city's business climate and overseeing the redevelopment of the North End, the new director is expected to become an immediate focal point at City Hall.
The three candidates are Erik Andersson, who currently serves as the economic development manager for Pacificorp, a major energy provider based in Portland, Ore.; Richard Michael, a veteran economic development director for mid-to-large size communities, currently working in Port Orange, Fla.; and Paul Carroll, a Wakefield resident with international business development experience, including a stint as the CEO of the Plymouth City Development Co. in Plymouth, UK.
Each has more than 25 years of professional experience in various capacities, and according to Howington, all come with impressive resumes.
"All three are eminently qualified for the position," she said. "One of the candidates demonstrated a strength with partnering with small businesses, while another has dealt with international trade and other large-scale issues." In the end, she said, it will come down to who proves to be the best fit within the community.
During their day-long interviews on Tuesday, each of the candidates met with a host of city personnel, took a tour of Aquidneck Island, and dined with a select group of city business leaders.
For Howington, a primary objective was getting feedback from the private sector.
During lunch, she said, each candidate had the chance to rotate between tables where business owners and industry representatives peppered them with questions and got to know each other on a more casual level.
While details have yet to be formally announced, it's expected that the new position will oversee a reconstituted planning, zoning, and building office.
Whatever new arrangement is made, it would effectively bring to a close a series of recent changes made to the structure of the city's planning department.
In 2012, Howington split the office formerly known as the Department of Planning Development Zoning and Inspections into two different departments, spinning off zoning, historic district preservation planner and building functions into a separate department.
With that move, the position of Director of Planning was eliminated, making way for a more economically driven post.
Under the city's FY2012-13 budget, a $138,000 line item was reserved to fund the new position, however a final salary would be contingent on the offer made by the city to its top-choice candidate.
That decision could come quickly.
Michael Coury, the city's director of human resources, said on Wednesday that he expects a decision to be made within the next week or so, with a start date as early as mid-February or March.