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Development strategies eyed

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At its May 4 meeting, Village Council and citizens continued a previous discussion on how best to implement economic development strategies for the Village. Council discussed various strategies, including hiring an economic development staff person, establishing a citizens task force, hiring a consultant or some combination of the above.

While most Council members favored hiring either a full- or part-time staff person to work on economic development, Frank Goetzke, a local economist, stated that Council would get better value for its investment if, rather than the traditional approach of hiring someone to lure new businesses to town, the Village instead focuses on making the village attractive to business by improving amenities, loosening regulations and providing lending opportunities.

“A good policy creates a business environment in which people want to come here,” said Goetzke, who teaches economics at the University of Louisville.

No action was taken at the meeting, and the discussion will continue at Council’s next meeting on May 18.

Council has identified improving the local economy as a Village priority, although the issue has been on the back burner due to other priorities and last year’s staff changes. This year’s Village budget has $150,000 set aside for economic development, which is the accumulation of three years of $50,000 earmarks from the 2006 five-year property tax levy. The levy will provide two more years of funding, for a total of $250,000.

“There’s a lot of talk about building on the strengths of the village,” said Council President Judith Hempfling, referring to recent conversations she’s had with villagers about economic development strategies.

“There’s a lot of entrepreneurial energy, especially among younger people, and it feels like it’s building,” Hempfling said, especially in the areas of the arts, green energy and local food production.

Villager Kathleen Boutis also urged Council to include local entrepreneurs in any development efforts.

“They have tremendous energy and great ideas,” she said. “If we don’t include that energy, we’ll miss out on fabulous local resources.”

Villager Michael Jones encouraged Council to not go after “the low hanging fruit” of jobs brought to the area by BRAC, Wright Patterson’s effort to relocate Air Force-related businesses. Doing so would “erode the fabric” of village economic history that has been built on civilian-oriented industry, he said.

In a presentation, Village Manager Mark Cundiff identified four possible approaches to staffing economic development. The Village could hire a full-time staff person, a part-time person, a consultant, or could form a public/private partnership with a local economic development corporation, which would be the staff person’s employer, although the Village would contribute annual funding.

Hiring a full-time person at the going rate would cost the Village from $83,000 to $115,000, including all taxes and benefits, according to Cundiff. While this option is the most expensive, it would also give Council more control than if the Village pursued a public/private partnership, Cundiff said.

But research has shown that economic development employees do not pay for themselves, according to Goetzke. Most development specialists focus on trying to bring new companies to town, which he described as “a zero-sum game that no one wins but the companies.”

He recommended that instead Council appoint a citizens task force or hire a consultant to oversee efforts to make the village more attractive to businesses, stating that a consultant from the academic world would be knowledgeable about the latest research on economic development.

But a staff person is needed to bring together the various local economic development efforts currently going on, according to Council member Karen Wintrow.

“There needs to be a point person,” she said, adding that Cundiff has too many other responsibilities to also take on that role. Council member Kathryn Van der Heiden agreed that a paid staff person is needed to bring focus to the many current village efforts.

In a written proposal, Hempfling suggested that Council and citizens engage in dialogue on three topics before it moves ahead with hiring a staff person. These topics are “articulating community strengths and values” to guide the strategies, establishing an ongoing citizens committee to focus on development efforts, and establishing a clear hiring process for an economic development staff person.

The upcoming visioning/planning effort will inform the Village’s economic development efforts, Hempfling said.

Council requested that Cundiff meet with Goetzke to discuss economic development strategies, then return with a proposal for hiring at the May 11 Council meeting.

In other Council business:

• Council unanimously approved the second reading of the supplemental appropriation to the 2009 Village budget with a variance of $11,500.

• Council unanimously passed a resolution establishing an identify theft prevention program.

• Council unanimously approved an amendment to Cundiff’s contract which extends the amount of time he has to find a house in Yellow Springs. The original contract required that Cundiff move to the village within six months of his hiring in November, but he and his family have not yet found a home, he said. The extension allows six more months before the move.

• Paul Abendroth of the Cable Advisory Panel gave that group’s annual report.

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