One of the most discussed items emanating from Monday night’s BOC meeting was the apparent move to transfer and transition the Lee County Economic Development Corporation (LCEDC). The three BOC conservatives– Shook, Parks, and Womack –joined with Commissioner Reives in voting to move the LCEDC under the managerial oversight of the County Manager no later than December 31, 2011. For now its budget remains as approved and recommended by the County Manager, and the oversight will continue under its present 12-member Board of Directors.
There appear to be quite a few details left to be worked out by commissioners in how best to transition and direct the activities of this organization. Those matters will be resolved in the coming six months. What is presently confirmed (as presented in Commissioner Womack’s motion) is that the LCEDC will be re-titled as an Economic Growth Office; that it will move under the county manager before the end of the calendar year; and that it will be set up to be more responsive to the Board of Commissioners inquiries in the future. Gone are the days where the EDC Director defers answering BOC questions or rendering routine reports until and unless the EDC Board so directs.
For those in Lee County who were surprised with this sudden and unexpected change, let’s examine why it happened: (A) The EDC had repeatedly refused to fully respond to several of the BOC questions about employment data and tracking the results of recruitment efforts by its director; (B) 67% of the EDC funding came from Lee County, but the county was only permitted to appoint 4 out of 12 voting members (an imbalanced representation); (C) despite repeated protest by conservatives, the EDC leadership persisted in pursuing incentive offers to outside companies rather than seeking to help local small businesses; and (D) the EDC was not regularly and repeatedly sharing insider information about its prospects and projects with commissioners. These things and more destined the EDC to be terminated by its chief funding authority. It was only a matter of time.
Some will ask, what good will come of this change in management and structure? Here are a few likely outcomes: (A) The EDC will lose its present director in December, and a new county position will be created to manage the county’s economic growth projects and policies; (B) County Commissioners will be receiving monthly reports and providing guidance on economic growth performance across the county; (C) a greater emphasis will be placed on business retention and expansion across all sectors in Lee County (rather than a singular focus on recruiting new industrial manufacturers); and (D) the BOC will begin showing interest in and greater responsibility for creating jobs and helping local businesses grow out of the present business recession.
Here are some other things to ponder as well: (A) the county’s fund balance is aproaching a level that the county was unable to fund any special capital infrastructure projects to attract new companies; (B) several of the companies receiving incentives in the past are now drawing down their employment levels or leaving Lee County altogether (raising questions about the sensibility of the EDC’s old incentives policy); and (C) all of the administrative functions of the EDC will be continued after the transition is complete– including management of the revolving loan funds, coordination with Dept of Commerce, RTRP and BRAC promotional efforts, and responding to inquiries from outside companies looking at Lee County.
In the end, this transition will be a good thing for Lee County.