Thursday, October 30, 2008

Get it going

More nervousness regarding the joint economic development initiative, this time in Oconee County, though it appears to be over different reasons than some hesitation on the part of what appears to be a handful of commissioners in Athens-Clarke County.

I do think too much is being made of this notion that the agency will expand to include other counties. As currently proposed - and noted earlier - the initial agreement is for equal representation and equal funding from Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County, with the balance of the budget made up through private fundraising efforts.

When this organization is formed, it isn't as if one county will be paying more than another county or that one county will have more representatives than another. In the beginning, both Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County will equally divide responsibilities to get things rolling ... as it should be.

Regarding the future of the organization, including welcoming additional counties or changing the terms of representation and funding, nothing is mapped out yet. All that exists is one suggestion from a joint task force that has normally rational people completely melting down and jeopardizing the potential of the entire project.

The point being that the logical step would be for this equally represented and equally funded organization to get to work promoting the two counties and not necessarily worry about how they're going to handle Jackson County or Madison County coming into the fold 10 to 15 years down the road.

There's an immediate problem regarding economic development and economic recruitment, and the agency - once formed - can make the appropriate decisions regarding expansion. The report merely makes a suggestion (several of them actually), but follows with this wise but overlooked disclaimer - 'Phase I development will determine the appetite toward moving to this phase.'

The intent is to launch the agency based on the existing recommendations and then evaluate in the future. Holding out on not launching this initiative because of concerns that may occur many years down the road if the agency wishes to move in one particular direction is the equivalent of not hiring an employee because they may or may not leave the job 10 years later.


Blogger Kelly Girtz said...

Hi JMac,
I just wanted to drop a quick note about concerns surrounding the Regional Economic Development proposal. No “melting down” seems underway, though media coverage has highlighted concerns from both Oconee and Clarke Commissioners. As you note, the initial step – pooling resources to better provide entry into local opportunities – is a no-brainer. I have not heard nothing but strong support regarding dedication of current economic development funding to a single entity by Oconee and Clarke.

The concerns that have been expressed are those about what happens in future iterations of the plan. It would not be entirely accurate to state that “nothing is mapped out” about future endeavors. More accurately, there are many details to be determined, but there are some specific recommendations, including that in 10-15 years funding comes from a variety of sources including “a dedicated portion of the millage for economic development purposes” (the report summary is available online).

It may be that this will be an ideal funding mechanism, but this should not be a foregone conclusion. What sometimes happens with multi-stage plans in large organizations is a momentum that is hard to re-direct after several steps have been completed, even when it has been explicitly stated that “the future is yet to be determined.” My own desire in asking questions now is simply to make sure that only the first phase is endorsed, and nobody is on the hook for the next steps.

Ideally, the first step will be wildly successful. Appropriate properties will be identified for development, successful businesses will be started, and there will be a high comfort level with expansion of the program. I am ready to vote for the initial phase ASAP, as I believe most or all of my colleagues to be.
-Kelly Girtz

11:42 AM  

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