Take EDC with grain of salt

Published 1:03 am Saturday, July 2, 2011

To the Editor:

At the recent public hearing for the county budget deliberations, the Economic Development Commission tightened its grip on its reputation as the Ministry of Misinformation.

Prominent business leaders spoke to the time and effort which was given to the EDC. A successful business owner gave an account of how several years ago his firm had received millions of dollars through EDC support. He stated the firm was profitably employing roughly 80 people, and that without the help of the EDC his payroll would be approximately 35 jobs. A back of the envelope calculation indicated this was 45 jobs which the EDC was instrumental in bringing to the county. Strangely, the EDC Report for 2010 claims the EDC created 84 jobs for this same firm. With average jobs paying $30,000 a year, this represents nearly $1,200,000 annually in economic development claimed but unearned by the EDC since 2007.

A charming and articulate spokeswoman for the Commission announced that “the EDC has been successful in selling two lots” at the Washington Industrial Park. This made me feel good. However, the spokeswoman did not seem to understand that only the County Board could sell county property. The board did not seem to grasp this point either. I later learned the lots weren’t actually sold. A half truth. I felt half as good.

Half as good is better than nothing, and unfortunately nothing was mentioned about the hoped for sale of the Quick Start II building to which the County Manager has tied his expectation that $198,000 of mortgage payments can be moved off of our cash poor financial statement. We still own Quick Start II. It sits vacant like a bright blue blister of debt on the county’s balance sheet. We built its 50,000 sq ft for $48/sq ft in 2007. Now, across the street, there is another big box “for sale” at $30/sq ft. This is not good at all.

Long story short, the Economic Development Commission has not sold the building, has misled the County Council, the community and itself about a land sale while soliciting more funding and has mistakenly claimed credit for over $4,000,000 of work not done. Now I’m not sure how good I feel.

My advice to the Commission is to stop explaining. You are making it worse.

My advice to the Executive Director is to write more grants. Avoid real estate. Buy some art. The Arts Council says it makes visitors to our county feel better to buy art.

My advice to the County Commissioners is to make the EDC a department of county government. It should have a supervisor, not a director, who reports to the County Manager and ultimately to the County Board. Rather than giving a director a travel allowance for living elsewhere, give the supervisor a housing allowance for living here. This will result in strict budgeting, structured project planning, professional cash management and our tax money will circulate in our own economy.

My advice to the taxpayer is to take the Economic Development Commission with a grain of salt.