City ponders county’s role in economic future
The last economic developer standing in Marion County is Theresa Huffman.
The county’s economic development director is the only such one remaining after the recent retirement of Clint Seibel from Hillsboro’s city staff and Marion economic developer Terry Jones’s resignation.
Before the city goes forward, it will ask Huffman to define what the county’s role is going forward.
“If we don’t have our own economic development person here, I feel it’s pretty safe to say we can’t count on anyone else to help us out,” councilman Chad Adkins said.
Huffman’s stated focus is agritourism, city administrator Roger Holter said. With such a focus, Holter and economic developer Terry Jones said, she has not been an asset for city economic development.
“Mr. Jones, how many clients have been brought to you from the county?” Holter asked.
“Very few,” Jones said. “I can’t tell you an honest number, maybe one.”
Mayor Todd Heitschmidt pointed out Huffman is more actively involved with cities that don’t have an economic development employee.
Only now that’s all cities in the county.
“It can no longer be 12 cities working independently and a county working independently,” Holter said. “The current trend in economic development is going to regionalization, where a larger economic development region is pulling together resources to reconfigure and have a force that has a greater reach.”
Council decided to have Holter approach commissioners and have them define their role in economic development countywide, thinking at least perhaps the county could take tourism off the hands of city economic development directors.
The discussion came from a larger conversation about the future of Marion’s economic development director position. Holter posed the possibility of removing the position entirely, but council voiced support for keeping the position.
“I think it’s important and we need to get somebody hired,” Adkins said. “Hopefully it’s important to everyone.”
Council members talked about the possibility of changing the responsibilities of the position, which Jones said spread him thin at times.
Holter, who was named acting zoning director upon Jones’s resignation, said he would prefer to search for an experienced economic developer, perhaps an assistant from another municipality that wanted to “take the helm for a while.” Jones was hired on without prior economic development experience and was trained on-the-job.
“Productivity’s easier when it’s not a straight up learning curve,” Holter said.