In my previous blog post on this subject, I presented ample evidence that Lee County’s economic policy is broken. I made this claim without exploring one other possible explanation for our perilous economic situation– that we simply don’t have an economic development policy. After all, it can’t be broken if it doesn’t exist, can it?
Well, to be perfectly truthful, Lee County doesn’t have an economic development policy. We have a 501(c)3 economic development corporation (EDC). We have a contract for economic development using that non-profit for some general purposes. We even have a board of directors that is appointed to look over the EDC and hold them to some undisclosed standards of performance. But we don’t have an economic development policy that represents the will of the people in Lee County for attracting and growing local businesses, for creating jobs, and for improving the overall economic landscape. Sad, but true.
In writing about self-preservation in my Federalist 43, I emphasized “…the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.”
So, in the interest in self-preservation, what must the Board of Commissioners and our local city governments do to put a meaningful economic development policy in place? It starts with recognizing we’ve got a problem, then organizing and planning to remedy that problem. At present, most of our elected officials collaborating on EDC issues — Commissioners Hayes, Dalrymple, and Oldham; and Councilmen Gaskins and Williams — apparently don’t see the need for a policy. That’s problem number one– educating these officials about how to do the policy making part of their jobs. Hopefully, some of this will sink in on them. Again, step one is to recognize we have a problem in the area of economic development and that we need a policy to address that problem.
Steps two and three of the process for developing an economic development policy are to baseline our present economic posture, then accomplish a joint ‘visioning’ session that defines the economic posture we should reasonably expect to attain for the county, 5-10 years into the future. That visioning process enables us to chart a course with clear goals in mind about how and how much we need to grow. Armed with this analysis, we can then develop methods and create milestones and objectives for intelligently creating jobs and pursuing new businesses over time.
Next in the process is to identify what content we need in the County’s economic development policy document. Fortunately for us, highly respected associations and agencies have already identified ‘best practices’ for developing such written policies.
Included in the content of recommended economic development policies are the following– structure and relationships for economic development; goals for expanding jobs and overall economic growth; workforce development goals; methods and scope for promoting the county to attract new businesses; identification of needed infrastructure improvements; and tools for producing growth (including incentives and grants).
The above steps require some form of collaborative effort among the EDC, the EDC oversight board, and elected county and city officials. All tasks should be accomplished with full transparency, as outlined in the state’s sunshine laws. And the general public should have ample opportunity to participate and comment at strategic points in the process– not the kind of token public comment we normally see granted by the benevolent King Richard at County Commissioner meetings.
When the above process is complete, we should have a living executable plan for economic growth across the county. The plan would give teeth to the lamentable EDC contract recently approved by local governments. Just as importantly, this policy would serve as a yardstick for measuring our progress, and help us establish accountability for commissioners and councilmen who are supposed to be serving our interests.