An increased spirit of cooperation between the City's Economic Development Committee and the Evansville Chamber of Commerce was evident at last night's regular meeting of EDC. John Morning and Becky Heimerl of CofC and EDC members talked of finding a way to create and fund a position tentatively to be known as Evanville Economic Development Coordinator.
James Otterstein, Rock County's Economic Development Manager, also attended the meeting and described how some other small municipalities in Rock County, particularly Milton and Clinton, are managing their economic development efforts.
In my view, in the past Evansville has not made a coordinated, sustained effort to develop and follow an economic development strategy, which could possibly consist of several components: (the following bullet points are copied from another source, are not my original ideas)
• Attract new basic employers (manufacturing, non-manufacturing, and non-local government offices). Efforts in this area tend to include the creation of promotional literature and web-based information, attending trade shows, participating in State promotional efforts and building infrastructure for new employers.
• Improve the efficiency of existing firms (the retention and expansion of existing firms). Strategies might include: Assisting with the procurement of job training funds, sponsoring business seminars, encouraging collaborations and industry clusters.
• Improve the ability to capture dollars. Strategies in this area would focus on retaining retirement income in the community, increasing the amount of purchases made locally, providing more services locally, etc.
• Encourage the formation of new businesses (Encouraging and assisting entrepreneurs to form businesses, which respond to the changing needs of the community. The formation of investment capital, revolving loan funds, creation of incubators, building shell spec buildings, and providing management assistance might assist these efforts)
• Increase aids received from broader government (A significant portion of a community’s income is composed of payments from things like the University, vocational schools, state & federal government, social security, veterans benefits, agricultural land conservation assistance, military contracts and installations, and aids for such things like schools, parks, streets, etc.). Grant writing and sponsoring federal procurement seminars might be approaches in this area.
John Morning passed around some email that related to an inquiry from a business that expressed interest in locating a new factory in the midwest near a casting facility (Baker Mfg has that capability.) The inquiry bounced around town a bit, but by the time someone called to respond to the inquiry, the business had found a home in Minnesota. The city has not really had a "go-to" person, who follows up on queries from business people interested in Evansville, actively seeks new business, makes grant applications, etc. I think it's likely that investing some money in such a position will pay off for the city in the long run. Other possible business opportunities will very probably emerge from the new bio-diesel facility and the expected TID #6, and we need someone who can seek out such opportunities and assist businesses who would might otherwise go elsewhere. I had a brief conversation with Senator Jon Erpenbach at the "bricks" ceremony yesterday; he thinks that, especially if the Landmark crushing plant comes through, more smaller businesses would be interested in locating near the Landmark facility. We need to be prepared to do as much as possible to make sure that no oportunities are missed.
EDC formally requested that CofC draw up a job description and a budget for a local "economic development coordinator" and to bring it to a future meeting of EDC to hash out. CofC agreed to do this, and the two groups will then try to figure out how to fund the position.
EDC didn't complete all the items on its agenda last night, because several members of EDC are also members of the Redevelopment Authority, which meets 90 minutes after EDC starts. Thus EDC has an artificial cut-off time, whether or not we're finished. Ald. Tony Wyse, Chair of EDC and member of RDA, would like to switch the meeting times, since RDA usually has reasonably short meetings. EDC members agree, & I hope the RDA members will also agree.
As EDC becomes more active, we clearly need more meeting time to complete our business. If this switch takes place, we'll have longer meetings, but I think we'll move forward faster. Because of the press of time, EDC will be having a special meeting to create its operating budget for 2007 this coming Wednesday night, September 27 at 6PM. That will be the only agenda item.