Other Voices: A new approach to economic development
There has been a lot of discussion over the last year in the community and in this newspaper about economic development.
There have been meetings of city councils and the Board of Supervisors individually and jointly. Business and community leaders also have met to discuss the topic. Many of these discussions took place after the county’s economic development study, known as the Seifel Report, was issued. This report, whether you agreed with it or not, was the catalyst for widespread discussion and dialogue in the community. It also provided some baseline data and analysis, which also caused debate and discussion.
The Board of Supervisors, despite a challenging budget year, maintained its funding levels for the joint chambers of commerce, increased its contribution to the Economic Resource Council (ERC) and presented a challenge to the business community to work through the ERC to propose a new model and initiatives for economic development. The board backed up that challenge with an additional $90,000 to support this new model and its initiatives. This would bring the total amount of the county’s contribution to economic development to about $315,000.
The County only receives $235,000 in Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). TOT is the traditional source that local governments often use to contribute to economic development and visitors bureau organizations.
This board is willing to go above and beyond what other local governments do because they know that while investment in economic development is important during the growth periods, it is imperative during an economic downturn.
Recently, the board was approached by a new group asking for financial support to attract tourism by building up convention-based activities. Business owners often face a similar dilemma as supervisors do. They often are asked to pay dues or membership fees to an ever-increasing number of well meaning business promotional organizations. It is a difficult challenge as there are a myriad of organizations supporting economic development efforts that include chambers of commerce, downtown merchants associations, county business associations and the list goes on. This is not to mention important segments of the community that make Nevada County a special place, such as the performing and visual arts community.
Just as a business owner has to decide how many and what organizations he/she can afford to belong to, as well as which will give the best return on investment, local government must do the same. Local governments have an obligation to see that the taxpayers are wisely invested in the right organizations. The “right” organizations may be different for the county than cities and towns.
Currently, more of the visitor/tourist financial activity takes place in the incorporated boundaries of the municipalities because of the location of hotels, restaurants and specialty retail. While the county’s economic concentration is on business to business in the construction, real estate and other business areas.
This new effort by the board and the cities to do just that has confused and confounded some in the business organization establishment. It isn’t the way the game is usually played. Normally, the county and cities, without change or question, renew their contracts. This new approach has caused consternation and angst. Change takes time and is often met with the inertia of the old guard.
As in any community, there are rumors of turf battles being fought clandestinely over what organizations should take the lead and who should get the funding. It is time to get beyond this type of bickering. It’s time for a new marketing strategy to be developed. One that replaces what some might call the old network and allows new ideas and energy to grow. A new strategy that is inclusive rather than exclusive. A different approach that streamlines the use of limited government funds and private sector support.
This is the reason the board asked the ERC to work with the business community to create a new model for economic development. It is hoped that this new model, under one organization, will be inclusive and will have initiatives that promote and market the community to attract visitors and quality jobs, while retaining existing businesses.
This is no small challenge for Gil Mathew and the ERC as they attempt to develop a different method of operation. Let’s hope the old network doesn’t wear them down and instead joins the new effort and brings their invaluable experience. The county stands ready to listen, collaborate, contribute leadership and matching funds, but we must embrace a new approach. In essence, local government now is waiting for the business organization’s proposal.
Rick Haffey is the County Executive Officer for Nevada County.
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