NEW SHIFT TO FOCUS ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FOR COMMUNITY
By Matt Sharpe
A new plan to expand from strictly an Industrial Development Authority to a more open Economic Development Authority looks to be the next play for business recruitment for the community.
Discussed last week by Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority members was the idea of expanding the IDA’s scope of incorporating more of an economic development including retail and commercial business.
“We have to learn how we’re going to be with economic development in Upson County,” said BOC chairman and IDA board member Norman Allen. “We have to decide as IDA board if we are going to become a development authority and we have to let citizens know how we are going to do economic development. Or are the county and city going to go their separate ways and do development on their own. I don’t recommend that. I look around and see communities that have figured it out. We’re in catch up mode. We have blinders on if you can’t see that. That goes with both economic development and workforce.”
Moving back to more of an economic development will not take a change in the IDA’s charter, as it already includes parameters allowing for that type of recruitment. Before a decision was made by a previous IDA board, there was one person who handled it all.
Lori Smith, Chamber of Commerce president, updated the IDA members on how the split occurred where the IDA would move to focus only on industrial recruitment.
“When Betsy (Hueber) was the president of the Chamber of Commerce, 90 percent of her job was economic development. That’s what she was paid for by the IDA…for economic development. The 10 percent was paid by the Chamber to manage the staff and budget. She handled retail recruitment, tourism, and industrial recruitment. The powers on the IDA at that time decided it would be cheaper and less expensive for the IDA and Chamber to split, the IDA board member at that time made a statement that they wanted ‘nothing to do with anything other than industrial recruitment’. They did not want workforce development, government relations, government roundtable, industry roundtable…they only wanted to focus on industrial recruitment,” said Smith.
“Right now the chamber has a budget of $120,000 and employees two people. When the Chamber and IDA were together, there was a third employee. Money was being received from the IDA for things like rent and prospects. When the IDA pulled out, the Chamber was left with a huge deficit including a building they couldn’t afford on its own. When it was done there wasn’t any type of agreement. Basically, the board at that time felt that it was in their best interest to move to the county and that position be a count ran position.”
The first step in moving forward with this new shift will require researching and gathering date and information on how the system works.
IDA Director Kyle Fletcher said that her early findings on recruitment for retail establishment’s three things stick out. Commercial and retail recruitment is driven by numbers; Traffic counts, population, and household income.
Several layers are involved in this type of economic recruitment according to Fletcher. A move to partner with real estate brokers, investors, and states officials on what it takes to recruit commercial and retail establishments will need to be established. Looking to see what pieces of property is available will be one of the first things when information is gathered.
One positive Fletcher said she has learned through early studies and meeting with those who deal with retail recruitment is no community gives monetary incentives for commercial and retail stores. Frequently, tax abatements are offered but very rarely.
“It starts with this board embracing the scope that it has had for a number of decades. ‘Who will be the one to do it’ is asked of me all of the time,” said Allen. “Are we going to go out and hire a consultant to help us in Upson County or are we going to take the ball and run with it. I think the answer is here.”
IDA board member Carson Gleaton said Fletcher collecting and gathering information for the move needs to be the first step so that “informed decisions” are made and not “rash decisions”.
Frank King agreed with Allen by saying, “somebody has to drive economic development.”
After discussion around the table, many said that calls come in to the Chamber, City Manager’s Office, IDA Office, and County Office wanting to know different information on buildings, land, and other things associated with moving a business to the area. Streamlining that information to one person is a goal needed in order for the move to take place. Who that person will be is up for discussion.
IDA board member Larry Derico asked Fletcher how it would change the dynamics of her job if the IDA office took on the responsibility.
Derico asked, “Everything that you are taking care of in the office now…if we take on a new responsibility, how does that change the dynamics of your job. What does that add to what you have to do? What does it do to your effectiveness as far as recruitment of industry?
Fletcher responded, “I feel like this office could effectively do it and there are some resources that I feel are fairly priced that specializes in it,” said Fletcher. “One of the things I learned in the last few weeks from a conference call is the opportunity for some help. Georgia Power recently kicked off a program called Site 360. They have hired a consulting company are providing that service to city’s who use Georgia Power. For example, for $3,500 they will come in and do the retail portion for you. Timing may be perfect for us especially with this program.”
IDA board members Carson Gleaton, Larry Derico, Frank King, and Norman Allen agreed unanimously to move forward with the shift to gather information on what it will take to move to more of an economic development. Information gathered on the decision is expected to be brought forward at the IDA’s next meeting set for Aug. 17.
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