With an atypical absence of controversy, the Nevada County board of supervisors renewed its annual contract with the Economic Resource Council during its last regular meeting.
The contract, which allocates $250,000 to the ERC over a two-year period, had been a source of contention in years past but was approved unanimously by the board without any dissenting commentary from members of the public.
“It has been difficult,” said Ed Scofield, referring to the tumult at the leadership of the ERC in the past two years. “But the duties and responsibilities with economic resources has gone on within this organization, so I believe the dollars we are giving to the ERC … is well justified.”
Scofield represents the board of supervisors on the ERC board’s executive committee.
Supervisor Nate Beason also acknowledged a “rocky start” to the business relationship between the ERC and the county, but said he was “willing to stick with this for a couple more years.”
The ERC has had four executive directors within the past two years, one of whom, Jon Blinder resigned last year after being charged with felony fraud in an alleged vast real estate shell game. Charges against Blinder have been dropped by the California Attorney General.
His replacement, Robert Trent, who was formally hired as the nonprofit’s leader in February, expressed enthusiasm moments after the contract was approved.
“I am glad the support was unanimous, but it shows we have much more work to do,” Trent said.
Trent said the focus of the ERC will continue to be multifaceted, but pertinent to the county contract, the organization will focus on two things: attracting tourism and economic development.
Regarding tourism, the ERC concentrated on integrating its message into regional media outlets, attending trade shows and the state fair, began an online marketing campaign and became an administrator in the NorCal Guide Phone App, according to the June progress report the nonprofit delivered to the county.
In the same report, GoNevadaCounty.com, another apparatus for enhancing tourism activities, reported seeing a 38 percent increase in visits from February to May (3,863 to 5,320).
Trent said ERC will be focusing its economic development efforts on business retention and adding jobs in the community, as opposed to attracting new businesses to the area.
“We want to grow the community from within,” Trent said.
Despite the two-year length of the contract, Beason said there are enough protections for the county.
“This a contract based on progress attainments, and if they don’t make enough progress, we don’t pay,” he said. “So, there’s a pretty good control mechanism.”
The money distributed to the ERC is derived from the Transient Occupancy Tax, a percentage of the cost of staying in a motel, hotel or other overnight accommodation operations in unincorporated areas.
Historically, the funds were distributed to multiple agencies, including the local chambers of commerce.
But last year, the board decided to award the entire sum to the ERC and allow the nonprofit to subcontract.
The manner in which the board distributed the funds and the performance of the recipients was sharply criticized by members of the public.
The board demanded several progress reports and attainable benchmarks last year but scaled back the number of reports it is requesting this year.
Trent said this will allow the ERC to concentrate more on its mission of enhancing tourism and fomenting economic development while spending less time on generating copious reports. The Grass Valley City Council also unanimously voted to distribute funds totalling $11,000 to the ERC at its latest meeting.
“There have been some ups and downs in the ERC over the years,” said Councilwoman Lisa Swarthout. “I have sat on the board now for two and a half years and I really feel like we’re on the right track. We’re moving forward.”
Swarthout represents Grass Valley on the ERC executive committee.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
“I am glad the support was unanimous, but it shows we have much more work to do.”
— Robert Trent,
ERC executive director