New Economic Development Director Ali Carter

LOWELL – The introduction of Ali Carter to his job as the new economic development director was a firestorm during Mayor Sokhary Chau’s round-the-clock business negotiations.

The small group sessions were designed to introduce business owners to city services, and provide additional support for pandemic-related impacts. Carter was less than a week into her new role, and she was still in the process of learning all of her roles and responsibilities, but she was able to provide much-needed resources and coordinate support for many of the participants.

“Business owners from a diverse range of communities – Asian American, Hispanic and Latino, Caribbean and African American – came to City Hall to meet with the leadership,” Carter recalled. “We wanted business owners to know that you belong here, you’re welcome here and we’re here to help you.”

Putting yourself out there and having an open door policy are key values ​​for Carter. He likes his job, and his department, for their accessibility and deep expertise, which includes a multilingual staff in Spanish and Portuguese. The department also contracts with the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association for Khmer translation services.

“My overall mission is to help the city be a great place to do business,” Carter said. “But my daily job is to do that by providing customer service to people looking to open a business in town, directing them where they need to go to get licenses and permits. I can help them evaluate their systems, and think about how they will work and how we can get them there. “

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It’s a big step up from his previous role as Economic Development Coordinator for the City of Arlington, a position he held for nearly six years. Not only is Lowell three times the size of Arlington, but it was designated a “gate city” under the Massachusetts General Statutes.

As defined in the code, gateway cities are central urban centers that support regional economies that face “stubborn social and economic challenges” while maintaining “many potential opportunities.” For generations, communities like Lowell were home to industries that provided residents with good jobs and a “gateway” to the American Dream.

The Legislature designates 26 Gateway Cities to the Commonwealth as: Attleboro, Barnstable, Brockton, Chelsea, Chicopee, Everett, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Leominster, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Methuen, New Bedford , Peabody, Pittsfield, Quincy, Revere, Salem, Springfield, Taunton, Westfield and Worcester.

“Because Lowell is a gateway city, and because of the way the government supports economic development, there are all kinds of programs and services available to businesses here,” Carter said.

It is located in an area supported by the government of rich organizations that are more in Lowell’s appearance, providing economic, technical and social opportunities to restore business ventures.

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“There’s a universal support system here, from the Community Group with their technical assistance and micro-lending, to the Lowell Development Financial Corporation and their micro-lending,” Carter said.

His job is to raise all those important and diverse assets and help make them available to the business foundation or potential business owner, a process Carter describes as “wrapping services for entrepreneurs.”

“In the city, we also issue forgivable loans to open or expand a business here,” explained Carter. “There are so many benefits, that it’s a fulfilling experience for me to be a part of.

Carter is an economist by mistake. He graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor of Arts in History, and Northeastern University with a Bachelor of Arts in History, and spent 10 years working for a local museum.

“When you work in the nonprofit museum world, you have to raise money,” Carter said. “I spent a lot of time talking to small business people, and I realized that the commercial space is not that different from a museum with funding issues. In addition, many towns and cities in the Commonwealth already have a historic preservation area after their creation, so combining the two fields is attractive to me. “

He brings his historical background to business opportunities in Lowell, which he describes as a city with “good” bones considering that cobblestone streets, red brick mill buildings or canals drive motorists – and city planners – crazy, they can’t. built today. It’s these unique pieces that make Carter think Lowell is on the rise.

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“Lowell is an old pedestrianized city that we can benefit from. “There is something real and authentic about this city,” Carter said. “It has a hands-on feel to it, which ties in well with the art and artistic movements that live in some of these places like Western Avenue Studios.”

On his immediate to-do list, however, is to find overlap between Lowell’s Rapid Recovery Plan and the American Rescue Act plan.

“Both plans have line items for signage, store improvements and small business support for facilities and programs,” Cater said. “Developing those plans and making them work is what I’m working on now.”

For a long time, he has been thinking about how to grow the city’s tax base, which has taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And every day, his door is open to aspiring and existing business owners who want access to the services, programs and support his department has to offer.

“We prefer that people make appointments so we can give them the time they need,” Carter said. “We are here to help.

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