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  • Last modified 142 days ago (March 30, 2017)

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Selling a phantom

Marion County Economic Development Corporation is in search of new members.

That means getting cities to buy into the task force’s vision, with dollars as well as mindset, that an economic development corporation working with combined resources to promote and develop the county as a whole will work better than anything cities might do individually.

MCEDC board members Russell Groves and Chris Hernandez made their first city pitch to Peabody council Monday. They’ve decided to approach this one city at a time; better, Hernandez said, to avoid confusion in a landscape with a history of independent actors that they want to transform into a synergistic whole.

They talked about retail, manufacturing, jobs, training collaborations, and workforce development, all with an eye toward how Peabody might benefit by throwing its hat and $25,000 into the ring. From Hillsboro and Marion, they’re hoping for more.

However, woven through all of that is a phantom of sorts, a somewhat ambiguous figure, shades of definition painted with hope, but no solid body to inhabit.

That phantom would be the economic development director the corporation intends to hire, but hasn’t yet.

They have a good idea of what they’re looking for: A high-powered economic development professional that won’t come for less than $70,000 a year, incentive bonuses, and benefits.

That director will know how to market, know how to attract retail and industry, and all the other ins and outs of economic development. And according to Groves, “The right person coming in here could easily represent the interests of everybody in this county and every municipality in this county.”

That’s a big bill to fill, and I hope they can do it. It appears our future economic prosperity is dependent on it. If determination counts for anything, they’re certainly off to a good start.

It’s not going to easy selling a phantom, but Hernandez, Groves, and others never imagined it would be. Peabody council members shared their primary reservation: They don’t want to be an afterthought. If they invest, they want to be a player, and they want to see returns on that investment for Peabody.

Getting cities to put their money and futures in the hands of an unknown person working for an untested corporation, could be tough, even though the model has worked elsewhere.

The county is in the game to the tune of $825,00 spread over five years. If Hillsboro, Marion, and Peabody jump in, a new director will have a solid war chest better than any individual city could muster.

But what MCEDC can’t promise is that individual cities will benefit equally from this arrangement, nor should they. Regardless of how high-powered a person they hire, businesses and entrepreneurs are in the driver’s seat. Where they choose to park is their choice, not the corporation’s.

Instead, they have to sell the idea that anything positive that happens in the county is good for everyone. We’ve yet to see evidence that cities have bought into that.

In essence, MCEDC is its own economic development project. Are they high-powered enough to pull it off? Right now, I wouldn’t bet against them, and I’m pulling for them. Hope is a curious lens.

-- david colburn

Last modified March 30, 2017

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