Burlington Business Man

Ed Moore has his finger on the economic pulse of downtown

by Portland Helmich

As executive director, Ed Moore brings spirit to the Burlington Business Association. "If the board of directors knew how much fun I was having," he says, "they wouldn't pay me to do it." The association started in the early '70s with a handful of Church Street merchants coordinating promotional events. Today, just 22 percent of members are downtown retailers.

If love for Burlington was a prerequisite for the job then Ed Moore was the perfect choice. Hired as executive director of the Downtown Burlington Development Association (now called the Burlington Business Association) in 1993, Moore is passionate about the Queen City. "It's more than a place it's more like a state of being," he says. "I think everyone that comes here develops a love affair with it."

Moore's love affair brought him to Burlington in August 1988, when he moved north from Midland Park, N.J. At the time, he was working for AT&T, which was losing its customer base. A special project called the redeployment task force was created to get employees into the field, selling the company's telephone network face-to-face. "Anybody familiar with corporate life knows that the term 'special projects' really means 'last exit before toll,'" Moore jokes. Sensing his new position didn't have much promise, Moore "redeployed" himself to Burlington, as his wife had family in Essex. Soon after, AT & T offered an incentive retirement plan that he couldn't resist, and, at 47, he kissed the corporate world good-bye.

"In my judgment, you need to market and promote that which Burlington has that the competition doesn't: the Waterfront, the character and charm of the downtown, the Flynn, the restaurants, the festivals," says Moore. "If retail can't be the attraction, then create a destination. When you do that, retailers benefit."

"I've been to the mountain," he says of his corporate years, "and now I'm doing this. This is dessert." According to Moore, what is so sweet about running the Burlington Business Association is working with the non-profit's 160 members. "Our board of directors and the people that serve on our committees are some of the brightest and most dedicated people I've ever worked with," he declares. "If the board knew how much fun I was having, they wouldn't pay me to do it."

The Burlington Business Association enhances and promotes downtown's economic vitality. Started in the early '70s as a spin-off of the Chamber of Commerce, it was originally a handful of merchants banding together to coordinate sidewalk sales and promotional events. Today, only 22 percent of members are downtown retailers. Other members now include restaurateurs, architects, accountants, and the media, for example.

"I've sat on a lot of boards, and this one is made up of the most remarkable group of people," says Main Street Landing Co. redeveloper Melinda Moulton, who both serves on the board and chairs the Waterfront Focus Group, one of the association's five committees. "Everyone comes from a different walk of business life, and what we do is make business fun," she continues, crediting Moore for the enthusiasm she brings to her responsibilities. "I can't wait to get into the boardroom and tackle important issues because Ed has sculpted such a fun-loving spirit in the association."

A pressing issue with which the Waterfront Focus Group has been concerned is how to get more people frequenting the businesses that line Lake Champlain. "We had a meeting," explains Moore, "and we said, 'What's the most significant issue about the waterfront that needs to be addressed?' Universally, the answer was signage." Thus, the committee raised $18,000 and hired a consultant. "Our first step," he adds, "was to create a 'sense of place' at the waterfront. We did that by having 30 colorful banners made and hanging them on the lightposts during the summer. We're very proud of that initiative. When you see those banners, they tell you that you're somewhere."

Moore works out of his Church Street office with Georgene Raub, administrative assistant. Melinda Moulton, of the Main Street Landing Co., says of Moore: "He's producing positive results in every corner of the city."

Another method of attracting waterfront visitors, says Moore, is through "interpretive elements," signs that offer historical information about the area. The first four of 21 signs were installed in September, after the association received a $4,200 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Moore is hopeful that the effort will increase year-round consumer traffic. "Our objective is to get more activity down there during the winter months. There are businesses that struggle there because people don't know or forget that they exist."

The Burlington Business Association sustains itself through membership dues and monies generated from its annual dinner and silent auction as well as its biannual socials. "If that seems like it's not a lot of money, that would be accurate," Moore says. "Our members are continually generating our financial subsistence."

The association is able to do as much good as it does, suggests Moore, because of members' volunteer efforts. "It's been my experience that regardless of the organization you belong to, 20 percent of the membership does all the work," he states. "We seem to contradict that. I certainly have more than 20 percent of the 160 getting involved in one way or another."

Take the Downtown Action Group, a committee Moore created. One day last August, members mobilized a "clean team" to paint over graffiti, whack weeds, and dispose of downtown garbage. "In addition to being a physical effort, it was also a symbolic one," Moore explains. "It let businesses know that everybody should take a step up and do what they can. If visitors come here and see broken windows and graffiti, they'll get the sense that the downtown doesn't care and we do care."

The Downtown Action Group not only concerns itself with environmental issues, but with social ones. The committee noticed that an increasing number of mentally challenged individuals seemed to be wandering aimlessly through downtown streets, intimidating visitors and young mothers. "This wasn't healthy for economic vitality," Moore says.

Rather than attempt to ostracize the individuals, the committee wrote a letter to the state secretary of health and human services in Montpelier. "We invited her to our meeting," Moore continues, "and we said, 'Here's our situation. We don't want to disenfranchise these people. We just want to make sure somebody looks out for them and checks that they're on their medication.'" The meeting took place in the summer of 1999; by May 2000, the committee had gotten an outreach worker on The Howard Center for Human Services' payroll full-time.

"The state funded $25,000; the city funded $8,000, and the United Way contributed $6,000," says Moore, "and the results have been unbelievable. We've gotten unsolicited letters from merchants who have noticed the demonstrative change in these individuals' behavior. People feel safer." In addition, Moore points out that the outreach worker's efforts are allowing police to better serve the community, as they can focus their energies on more serious matters.

A recent matter of serious proportions was the arrival of Filene's, on which the association's policy committee took a definite stand. Lobbying with city council in favor of the department store chain, the nine-person committee lent the Burlington Business Association's growing influence to another city initiative.

The same occurred last summer when the Pease Grain Tower was removed at the waterfront. "There was a huge debate over whether it should come down or stay up," Moore remembers. "It was a monstrosity, but some people were concerned that it was historic." Moore wasn't. "Something that postdates man landing on the moon can hardly be called historic," he quips. "We physically went and lobbied for the removal of that thing."

Stressing that he doesn't want to "brag," Moore acknowledges that his association carries weight in Burlington. "There used to be an old commercial on television about E.F. Hutton: 'when he speaks, everybody listens,'" Moore recalls. "That's kind of what it's like here. When I go before the city council or almost any commission, I'm not speaking for Ed Moore. I'm speaking for the whole business community."

Born and raised in Jersey City, N.J., Moore graduated from Seton Hall University with a degree in marketing in 1964, and he was commissioned as a second lieutenant from ROTC. He spent two years in the army in Fort Lewis, Wash. "When I got out," he says, "I had no job, no money, no car, no place to live, a wife, a six-month-old, and a baby on the way."

In need of any kind of work, he became a salesman at New Jersey Bell Telephone. He progressed through various departments, managed two business offices, and eventually wound up as a district manager in human resources.

In the early '80s, when the Justice Department determined that AT & T had to divest itself of its operating companies because it had become a monopoly, all New Jersey Bell Telephone employees were given a choice: stay with the locally regulated entity or join AT & T. Moore chose the latter. "I thought the opportunities would be greater," he says.

Father of four, Moore continued working in human resources as a personnel manager. With downsizing and layoffs happening all around, his work became alarmingly stressful. Still, he admits, his years in corporate America have helped him bring "a sense of urgency" to the Burlington Business Association.

Dan Dubonnet knows what Moore means. Vice-president and general manager of Hall Communications, Dubonnet formerly chaired the Burlington Business Association's board of directors. "Ed's worked hard to develop good relations with the mayor and his administration, which enables the business community to have input into policy and management of downtown issues," he explains. "He's bringing the public and the private sector closer together."

Like Moulton, Dubonnet also stresses that Moore's sense of humor makes working with him a pleasure. "Ed always has a joke, though not always a good one," he says with a laugh.

"I've always felt that if you're going to do something, have fun at it," Moore says. Another of the executive director's core beliefs is that accomplishments cannot go unnoticed. "I think that one of the key ingredients to a successful organization is recognition," he explains. "I learned in my corporate days that if you give people the opportunity to achieve and they do achieve, then you make sure that you recognize that achievement. That goes a long way to motivating not just that individual or one particular business, but it has an impact on other businesses, as well."

Moore is surely speaking of the Golden Broom Award, which the program committee gives out quarterly to a member who has gone "above and beyond" the call of duty in maintaining the property around his or her business. The Daily Planet and The Burlington Free Press are examples of past winners.

In concert with the Church Street Marketplace, the association's promotion committee created a customer service program. Once a month, a downtown employee who has demonstrated superlative customer service skills is singled out and awarded "lots of stuff," says Moore. "Three years ago our outstanding customer service winner of the year was a housekeeper at the Radisson."

Mostly solo in his Church Street office (an administrative associate works part-time), Moore stays abreast of the city's goings-on by reading "every agenda from every commission and every city council meeting," and by attending every one of his committee and membership meetings. "I need to stay alert so that I can effectively direct our resources to address opportunities and challenges," he remarks.

A challenge that might threaten a less visionary individual is the influx of retail chains that have crept into an area previously dominated by small businesses. Moore is unfazed. "Several years ago people were going nuts when Wal-Mart was coming here. I didn't see the impact people were suggesting it would have," he says. "If you can assume that Burlington is no longer the retail center of the state and there's fair enough reason to make that assumption then what do you need to do?" he asks. "In my judgment, you need to market and promote that which Burlington has that the competition doesn't: the Waterfront, the character and charm of the downtown, the Flynn, the restaurants, the festivals. If retail can't be the attraction, then create a destination. When you do that, retailers benefit."

In Moore's eyes, passenger rail, which began running between Burlington and Charlotte in December, increases the likelihood that Burlington will become such a destination. In addition to decreasing U.S. 7 traffic, rail travel has enormous economic potential, insists Moore. Entwined with his love for Burlington is his vision of it.

"I see a multi-modal transportation center adjacent to the train station at the waterfront," he muses. "I see a first-class marina; I see people accessing the city by rail and by boat. I see the waterfront as our economic future, and we can be instrumental in making these things happen."

With Moore at the Burlington Business Association's helm, they already are. "I don't think there's anything that's happened in the business community that Ed hasn't had some role in," says Moulton. "He's producing positive results in every corner of the city."

There's no telling what a little ambition and a lot of love can do.

Originally published in January 2001 Business People-Vermont