Lack of leadership cited in Nevada County economic development talks |

Lack of leadership cited in Nevada County economic development talks

One thing was clear Wednesday at a roundtable discussion on how to grow Nevada County’s economy: the various stakeholders do not have a unified vision of a strategy to accomplish that task.

“One of the challenges we’ve had as a community is to get a common goal and focus,” said Nevada County Supervisor Terry Lamphier.

Wednesday’s roundtable was put on by Grass Valley’s government, which has taken steps toward economic development by annexing property poised for industrial use and gauging local shoppers’ preferences through a survey.

After opening presentations, attendees spoke on a wide range of topics. In attendance were a who’s who of prominent government and business leaders, including the director of Gov. Jerry Brown’s economic development team, Grass Valley and Nevada County business owners, representatives from the county and city governments and members of their staff, as well as leaders of the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Grass Valley Association and the majority of Nevada County’s Economic Resource Council (ERC) board of directors.

While the conversation touched on retaining businesses; helping business grow; attracting business, tourism, job growth, infrastructure, manufacturing and technology sectors; no one economic development tactic was agreed upon as the united goal Wednesday — though members did acknowledge that the roundtable was only the first step of a united effort.

Much of Wednesday’s conversation focused on the lack of recognized leadership on economic development. When the California Association for Local Economic Development’s President and CEO Gurbax Sahota asked the leaders if all of Nevada County’s leaders and stakeholders were “solidly” behind the ERC, a chorus of “No” was echoed around the room at Grass Valley City Hall.

“I am not totally convinced,” said Supervisor Ed Scofield, who also sits on the ERC board. “If we were really the leaders, we would have the membership much stronger than it is.”

Grass Valley and Nevada County lose more than $200 million dollars annually in retail sales to other communities, such as Auburn, Roseville and Sacramento, according to Texas-based Buxton Company.

That revenue has contributed to local governments’ depressed revenues. For instance, between 2008 and 2012, Grass Valley’s more than $10 million general fund lost about $1.5 million and Nevada City lost $487,000, prompting both agencies to appeal to voters to approve temporary local sales hikes to prop up city services.

The ERC is charged with spurring economic development in western Nevada County, managing the county’s $240,000 tourism enhancement contract, as well as acting as a resource for existing and prospective businesses.

But the agency is in the midst of transition, in search of its fourth executive director since January 2012 and fifth in the past three years. In late September, the organization did not renew its contract with its executive director, Robert Trent, who was in that position only seven months.

In addition to county funding, the ERC is also supported by both Grass Valley and Nevada City governments for the task of promoting the area. However, those agencies also pay their respective chambers of commerce for that purpose. Grass Valley also funds its downtown association to promote the area.

“I think we are competing with our chambers sometimes,” Scofield said.

“I think it is the leader,” said Grass Valley City Councilwoman Lisa Swarthout, also on ERC’s board. “The county has designated us, by virtue of contract, as the lead economic development organization in the community. The City of Grass Valley acknowledges that, and I think Nevada City acknowledges that, too.” Swarthout continued, “If we haven’t communicated that well enough, that is probably part of our problem.”

Citing an adherence to the scheduled time constraints, Sahota cut Wednesday’s talks short as leaders continued to debate other issues. Her advice was that the leaders articulate their unified goal, get everyone behind it and execute it.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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