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Economic development entity closer to reality

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — May 18, 2010 — County Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis’ dream of a new Economic Development Corporation (EDC) may be weeks away from reality.
Virtual reality, that is.
“Initially, this is going to be a virtual scenario,” County Manager David Fanslau told legislators on Thursday.
Though based on the 35-year-old bylaws of a never-started county EDC, this new version will interact via the Internet.
With activation expected this summer, a board is being constituted, comprised of the leaders of the involved groups:
• Sullivan County government (Rouis, Fanslau and Minority Leader Leni Binder, who will not be able to serve as board leaders);
• Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (Chairman and Legislator Elwin Wood and Executive Director Jennifer Brylinski);
• Sullivan County Workforce Development Board (Director Laura Quigley and Board Chair Robert Green);
• Sullivan County Visitors Association (President Roberta Byron-Lockwood and Board Chair Paul Carlucci);
• Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce (President Terri Ward and Board Chair Jeremy Gorelick);
• Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development (President Tim McCausland and Board Chair Josh Sommers);
• And two yet-to-be-named industry representatives (who will have no voting power nor be able to serve as leaders of the board).
The chairperson of the EDC’s board will rotate every year, while the president of the EDC will be the county’s planning commissioner, currently Luiz Aragon.
“We’re eager to start,” said Aragon to the legislators. “At least, I am!”
Rouis’ announcement of the EDC concept more than two years ago initially got a lukewarm reception.
While many agree the county’s various economic development agencies don’t always coordinate their efforts, those agencies’ individual authorities have been carefully crafted and guarded over the years.
Groups like the IDA and the Workforce Development Board are directly under county control, but much of the rest are semi-autonomous, receiving county funding but operating under their own leadership and board guidance.
The Chamber of Commerce, in fact, intentionally rejects county funding to avoid having to follow county mandates.
And the EDC, which ultimately seeks to put all the involved agencies under one roof (possibly at the Frontier complex in Rock Hill), is being eyed with cautious optimism by Chamber President Terri Ward.
“I’m not opposed to the entity itself,” she explained on Friday. “... We’re still opposed to breaking down the Chamber and moving to Rock Hill.”
But with that possibility far off in the future, Ward feels confident the Chamber will be able to protect its interests while furthering the county’s goal of coordinating economic development.
“We’re definitely going to have a seat at the table and have a say in it,” she affirmed. “I think everybody is excited to work together.”
“It’s a good first step,” agreed Partnership President Tim McCausland, who bemoaned the current system.
“It’s a broken system,” he said, noting the widespread locations of the various agencies. “... You have to stop in Bridgeville, then you have to stop in Ferndale, then in downtown Monticello, then the Government Center, then the Frontier building.”
He did admit that achieving coordination may be the biggest challenge, especially with government involved.
“I would prefer to have less politics involved than more,” he remarked.
Legislators, however, are already making suggestions, urging on Thursday that EDC leaders strive to include union representatives.
“Unions should be part of this from the beginning,” assessed Legislator Leni Binder. “Otherwise, this won’t work.”
“Do they need a seat on this board, or a seat at the table?” Ward wondered.
“Why shouldn’t they have a seat on the board?” replied Legislator Ron Hiatt.
“Labor is supposed to be part of the Workforce Development process,” noted Fanslau, who anticipated no more board seats being created.
In the meantime, Legislator Alan Sorensen asked EDC leaders to omit the word “adult” from the circa-1975 mission statement, in order to reflect the need to enhance both adult and youth employment opportunities – one of the EDC’s key objectives.
Aragon said the other objectives of the EDC will include creating an economic development master plan for the entire county, inventorying area business needs and resources, and updating the list of federal, state and local government incentives.
The county’s Planning Division, he added, intends to serve as the catalyst for EDC initiatives and coordination, with a special focus on agriculture.
“I think this is a great start,” Rouis said to his fellow legislators. “The more time we’ve spent on this, the more I think people have seen the value of it.”
Aragon plans to make an official presentation about the EDC to legislators at the June 3 Planning Committee meeting. Open to the public, it will be held at 10:15 a.m. in the Government Center in Monticello.

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