Economic Development committee forging forward

Staff writer

There are likely some tough decisions ahead for county economic development.

With the recent formation of a county economic development committee, focus and money might need to be shifted to the proposals the committee brings forward when they are done evaluating how to recruit jobs to the county.

“In the past we’ve done a lot of focus on tourism and a few other small things,” county commission chairman Randy Dallke said.

Dallke said economic development plans need to keep up with the times.

“I look at what we’re spending and what our goal is here,” Dallke said. “Twelve years ago things were a little different situation from what we have now. Marion County is going to have to do some things differently.”

The plans and policy that will ultimately be put forth by the economic development committee could mean substantial change in the overall approach the county takes toward economic development.

Dallke told economic development director Teresa Huffman he expects to make some hard decisions on recruiting jobs and business, and tourism.

Dallke said he’s never felt the focus was in the right place.

“I want to support this group because they’re doing some things that help the whole county,” Dallke said. “Times are tough and with our tax dollars you can’t split it enough ways to make everyone happy.”

“Incentives are good, but there’s no point giving away the farm,” Huffman said.

Huffman said that her “number one priority has always been job creation,” and tourism is part of her job description.

Committee chair Chris Hernandez said the committee intends to complete its work by spring.

“We hope to exceed expectations,” Hernandez said.

County commissioners talked with both wings of economic development last week, members of the economic development committee and Huffman.

Members of the committee gave an update on committee activities.

The committee has talked to other economic development groups across the state to find out what has worked for them and what has failed, member Craig Dodd told commissioners.

“I think when you ask for help, people want to help you,” Chris Hernandez said.

Hernandez said the committee has formed two subcommittees.

The economic policy subcommittee will look outside the county to see what works and what falls short, and the economic competitiveness subcommittee will dig deeper into what makes up Marion County from top to bottom, Hernandez said

So far, committee members have talked with five officials in three counties.

“Finney County has the best example of what we are currently trying to do here in Marion County with one important modification,” Hernandez said. “In Finney County the cities, county, and even the junior college all put their money together to drive for a common goal. We are, for the most part, a taxpayer funded economic and development program here in Marion County, however we are far from working together as a team.”

Hernandez said excitement among committee members is starting to build.

“My question is what we can do to help you get started,” commissioner Lori Lalouette asked Hernandez.

Hernandez asked to hire Alicia Stone to attend group meetings and keep records at each monthly meeting. Commissioners approved that request.

Hernandez’s other request, for an $8,000 budget to cover expenses related to formulating a plan and policy proposal for the county, was not immediately granted. The money would not be used for committee members’ personal expenses, but strictly for costs related to the project, Hernandez said.

“We have committed the $8,000 would be a ceiling not to be exceeded,” Hernandez said. “The purpose of the funds will strictly be for legal and consulting fees.”

Last modified Sept. 7, 2016