An organization designed to spur economic activity in northern Gila County is grappling with more than just how to grow the economy, it is trying to figure out how to reorganize itself after losing its director three months ago.
Jerry Miles took over as interim director of the Northern Gila County Economic Development Corporation (NGCEDC) Aug. 15, after Ken Volz resigned in late May.
Miles was president of the non-profit
NGCEDC before Volz resigned for undisclosed reasons. Vice-president Julie Ruttle will take over Miles’ duties as president.
“I have taken over until we find someone to take (Volz) place,” Miles said.
After Volz’s resignation, Miles said as president the organization was “dumped in my lap.”
Miles is now tasked with figuring out how to salvage an organization that has seen its funding slashed in half, is without an office, and for years has been criticized for lackluster economic results.
Miles’ reconstruction plans so far include expanding the organization’s board, reworking how it accomplishes its mission, working with existing businesses and finding a permanent director.
“We are revamping the whole thing,” he said. “We need to get out, knock on doors and help local businesses succeed and thrive.”
Two years ago, both the town of Payson and Gila County funded the organization, which is supposed to cultivate economic prosperity for northern Gila County by attracting new businesses and helping existing business owners expand.
This year, 100 percent of funding is from the county, with Payson employing its own economic development coordinator, former council member Mike Vogel.
Miles said he hopes to work with Vogel and Payson because “we are not here to compete with each other.”
Vogel said he will help the organization in anyway he can.
“If they get up and running, I am out of a job,” Vogel said. “If we have a viable economic corporation then the town won’t need me and I am fine with that. As long as I see jobs created, I don’t care who gets the credit. ”
With Payson’s funding gone, Miles said he is being paid substantially less than what Volz was paid as a full-time director.
Miles is also housing the organization out of his home since the county took back Volz’s former office and gave it to the county’s new manager.
“We are trying to find office space,” he said, but it is hard because we only have so much money to spend on rent.
The county has given $50,000 to fund the NGCEDC for the next fiscal year, a 50 percent decrease from two years ago.
With a shoestring budget, Miles said he is doing what he can with his limited experience in economic development.
“I am not a professional economic director person, I am a retired insurance agent,” he said. “I am trying to figure out how we can get the biggest bang for our economic buck.”
One of Miles’ first tasks is expanding and rearranging how the board works.
Initially, the organization was set up with a six-person executive committee as well as seven board members. The idea was that the executive committee would run the day-to-day operations with board members meeting one or two times a year.
However, the organization will function better with nine to 11 board members and five additional members from the community who meet monthly, Miles said.
Miles envisions a representative from Payson, Star Valley, Gila County, the Tonto Apache Tribe and the chamber of commerce meeting with the board to discuss how it can help them grow and attract new businesses.
“We will use them for input,” he said. “They will be the one person to go to.”
Miles also hopes to reconnect with business owners since he does not have the experience to proactively seek out new projects just yet.
“As they come up, we will help,” Miles said, but the board will be more focused with helping existing businesses expand, possibly by acquiring grants.
When asked about accomplishments of the organization, Miles pointed to the Enterprise Zone designation. With the designation, new companies in town can get a reduction in their property tax bill and a $3,000 per-employee tax credit for their first three to five years in business.
On Aug. 6, Miles, with the help of Payson Town Manager Debra Galbraith, filed the paperwork to extend the Enterprise Zone through next year.
Beyond that, Miles said it is hard to define success and economic development. For example, it may take years before a new business comes to fruition.
“I see economic development on a much more basic level,” he said.
Helping a small business get a line of credit or establishing a business plan is success, he said.
In the next six to nine months, the Gila County Board of Supervisors is expected to determine how it wants the organization to continue.
There is a possibility the board may merge the Southern Gila County Economic Development Corporation with Northern Gila County under one director. A month ago, the director of the southern organization resigned and a replacement has not been selected.
“(The supervisors) have said they want to continue, we just don’t know what direction they want to take,” he said. “We may go in a different direction, but let’s re-establish our relationships so when March or April comes, we know how to move forward.”