New Model Explored To Grow County’S Economy

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Supervisors heard a presentation April 12 that has given them a glimpse of a new economic development model for Gila County.

Currently most efforts for economic development are individually pursued by the different government entities within the county. The program the supervisors heard about from Ron Nielson, economic development finance professional and director of Gila Community College Small Business Development Center, suggested all entities work together. It is a model that he and others in economic development created for the rural Washington county of Okanogan.

Bordered by Canada on the north, the county is the largest in Washington. Its largest community had only about 4,000 people when Nielson was there; it also had a reservation.

He said it took almost a year-and-a-half to make the switch from individual economic development groups to an umbrella group.

Surprisingly, Nielson said business recruitment was not — and should not be — the primary objective of an economic development commission/corporation (EDC). It is one of several tasks.

“EDCs run the risk of being all things to all people,” he said. The first question put to representatives of an EDC is, “What have you done for me lately?”

Nielson said that regardless of the kind of EDC a government has, the EDC needs to have a clear sense of direction and understanding of the big picture. That big picture should include: how do the EDC, chamber and government fit together; do they operate with a comprehensive plan; and who is the lead entity in any given situation?

To have an effective EDC, Nielson said its stakeholders should include the business community, all levels of government and the area’s residents.

He outlined what are considered typical EDC services:

• Develop and maintain a commercial/industrial site inventory;

• Geographic Information System overlay (of infrastructure, etc.) — working with the county planning;

• Government — work with knowledge of local planning and zoning; work with community development or planning and zoning of towns, county, state and tribes to develop the economic development component of the “comprehensive plan”; serve as the liaison between new businesses and local governments in the permitting process; work with knowledge of state and federal economic programs and incentives; know current work force statistics and government training incentives;

• Infrastructure: know about sewer; water; Internet access and speed of current systems and any planned improvements; general ingress and egress of a proposed site; roads, airports and other, such as rail and interstates if available; public transportation; multimodal (hiking, biking, horse and ATV trails for quality of life interests);

• Housing inventory information;

• K-12 school information;

• Higher education and partnerships for employee training opportunities;

• Quality of life;

• Arts and culture opportunities; generally, what is there to do;

• Community support or Not In My Back Yard attitude;

• Conduct analysis of local strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and then develop a plan to highlight strengths and opportunities and develop and implement plan to address weaknesses and threats;

• Coordinate community development priorities and projects;

• Coordinate local priorities and projects with economic development district — in Gila County’s case, the Central Arizona Association of Governments;

• New business recruitment;

• Business and job retention;

• Conduct needs assessment;

• Keep current on state economic development plans —Economic Gardening, Incubators, High Technology and Green Business Initiatives;

• Keep current on federal government initiatives;

• Track economic trends; assess the impacts of state, national and international economics on the local economy;

• Support and advocate for national and/or state legislation that stabilizes or strengthens local economy.

Funding for the work of an EDC generally comes from the membership fees paid by governments, businesses and individuals, plus an assortment of grants, Nielson said.

District One Supervisor Tommie Martin said she would like to talk with the people in Washington’s Okanogan County to see how things are going there since the new EDC model was implemented and see if they had any words of wisdom in regard to it.

District Three Supervisor Shirley Dawson asked Nielson what he saw as the future for economic development in Gila County.

Nielson said a comprehensive plan should be created, integrating all the players into the process.

“The worst thing we can do is nothing and just let things happen,” he said.

County manager Don McDaniel said the new model would make the county one of the decision makers, not just the funding source.

“There is a tremendous opportunity (for the county) regardless of the (ED) structure you decide on,” Nielson said

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