The city of Westbrook is hoping to develop a long-term plan for its economic development with the help of members of the local business community.

An economic summit later this month, similar to one held in the fall of 2005, will focus on assessing how the city is bringing in development and establishing goals for the coming years.

The summit, open to the public, will be held on Friday, Jan. 26, from 8 a.m.-12 p.m., at One Riverfront Plaza, and again on Saturday, Jan. 27, from 8 a.m.-12 p.m., at the Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church, for those unable to attend on Friday.

“It’s a continuation of what we started last year,” Mayor Bruce Chuluda said Friday of the upcoming meeting.

Westbrook Director of Economic and Community Development Erik Carson said he’s hoping the summit will help Westbrook establish goals for the next three years, the next five years and the next 10 years.

“In general, the past summit showed us that we were generally on the right track,” Carson said of the 2005 summit, where business leaders voiced approval of the city’s attempts to attract business.

Since the closing of the pulp mill at Sappi Fine Paper, Westbrook’s tax base has changed dramatically. In 1989, 40 percent of Westbrook’s business tax base came from Sappi, compared to 4 percent today. After the pulp mill closing, the city began a campaign to attract new businesses in emerging technologies, such as Idexx. The 2005 summit was an effort to take stock of how the city was doing.

“We needed to pinch ourselves and see if we were headed in the right direction,” said Carson.

Information gathered at the previous summit suggested that the city would need to do several things to continue attracting new businesses. It would need to establish a skilled employee base for emerging technology businesses through education in the school system. The city would also need to make it easier for small businesses to thrive in Westbrook and also encourage businesses to locate in the downtown.

In preparation for this year’s summit, the city hired an independent firm to conduct a survey of about 30 Westbrook business and community leaders to find out what they thought of the city’s efforts. Carson said the survey was conducted privately, the firm interviewing each leader independently and anonymously. The results of the survey will be presented at the summit.

“People could say what they thought,” said Carson. “People are more honest and creative when it’s anonymous.”

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