County hires new economic development group

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By Cheri Harris

In a 4-1 vote, Gadsden County Commissioners voted in a regular meeting Oct. 1 to hire a new organization to handle economic development.

The Gadsden County Development Council will now be responsible for marketing the county to prospective businesses interested in moving here. 

According to the BOCC agenda request, commissioners want “an aggressive approach to marketing and recruiting new businesses to the county to assist in expanding the tax base and provide new employment opportunities for its citizens.”

 Dr. Henry Grant, secretary for the GCDC, told commissioners the organization was formed in 2000 at the direction of the commission and it had created two strategic plans, an infrastructure efficiency study and generic marketing plans targeting a range of industries, from retail to agriculture.

“Our biggest problem is that we have done visioning, studies for 13 years and we have not been able to implement anything because we have not had the funding to do so.”

Grant told commissioners the GCDC is a partnership including all Gadsden County municipalities, the school board, Workforce Plus, Talquin Electric, Focus Credit Union, Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity and the Apalachee Regional Planning Council. He said the municipalities have provided economic support to pay to maintain the organization’s nonprofit status through the years. He said the GCDC board still meets regularly and would be up and running in 120 days if it had the funding.

Commissioner Gene Morgan asked what the organization would do in that time.

Grant said the goal would be to develop a working staff, likely contracting with an executive director already in the business.

“I’m not here to tell you that we have the experience,” he said. “We do not have the experience going out and doing this day to day, but collectively on the board, we do have the experience.”

Commission Chairman Doug Croley said the GCDC includes participation from all municipalities, which have either contributed or committed to financially supporting its efforts.

“That’s the major difference,” Croley said, “and what the county has been doing now is funding 100 percent of economic development.”

For about five years, the county has contracted with the economic development arm of the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce to those services.

Antonio Jefferson, Gretna’s city manager and a GCDC member, said, “We just want one year to prove that we’re capable of leading this county in the economic development realm.”

Jack Peacock, volunteer chairman of the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce, came to the meeting to ask the BOCC to continue the chamber’s contract for economic development.

He said the relationship between the chamber and the BOCC has been the model of a public-private partnership with the chamber supported by both its members and the county’s funding.

“We don’t need time to start up,” he said. “We’re here.”

Morgan said over the past five years the chamber has been successful in delivering what was put into the contract with the county, despite a challenging economy.

Commissioner Sherrie Taylor said in the past four or five years the county has invested nearly $250,000 in economic development and she does not feel the county is where it should be, and she did not feel it was a good idea to continue down the same road. She said having all the municipalities at one table agreeing on economic development created a unique opportunity.

“These are major stakeholders,” she said.

Commissioner Brenda Holt said, “Who would work and wait 13 years before getting money? That’s amazing to me. I really believe that you have to put your money where your mouth is.”

She made the motion to approve the GCDC’s proposal to provide economic services.

Morgan cast the dissenting vote.

Croley told a Times reporter the approval for the GCDC was, in essence, conceptual, and the organization will come back with a request for county funding and other specific plans.

The county has budgeted about $110,000 for economic development for fiscal year 2013-14 and $30,000 for the Small Business Service Center. In FY 2012-13, the chamber received $64,020, $19,400 of which went to the SBSC.

While some commissioners expressed interest in the GCDC hiring a certified economic development professional as an executive director, that was not a requirement of the executive director’s job description in the GCDC’s proposal.

Croley said it is not likely the GCDC will have funding to hire a full-time, certified economic development professional but it should be able to hire one on a contract basis.

In other business, commissioners voted:

N Unanimously to hire Allara Gutcher as the new planning and community development director for Gadsden County.

N Unanimously to approve the appointment of Peter Patel to the Gadsden County tourist Development Council.

N 3-2 against approving a real estate sales contract with Capital City bank to buy a new EMS facility, the Thomas Motor Cars property.

Times Executive Editor Cheri Harris can be reached at 850-627-7649 or editor@gadcotimes.com.