This third post in this series deals with organizational capacity and structure. Having been a small town city manager, the components being mentioned are applicable to any scale community, however most of these comments are directed to smaller cities (5,000 – 15,000). Before a community can effectively engage in economic development, some very conscious examinations and discussions between the manager/administrator and council members need to take place: is there the organizational capacity, knowledge, relationships/networks, budgets, political support and/or community support in place?
Regarding organization capacity: there needs to be at least one person on staff that understands economic development, and is able to spend the time engaged in economic development activities (depending on the community ED activities could take from 25%-50% of available time) while juggling other muni duties, have grant writing abilities, and have knowledge of land use and zoning code administration.
I was fortunate in one community to have that support – but it did take three years to bring the council on board. The Council and Planning Commission were finally convinced of the need to hire a consultant to perform a Comprehensive Plan (which included an economic development plan), which pointed to a need to re-write the zoning and subdivision codes and create a 5 and 10 year Cap Plan that included greenfield development. The Plan provided the documentation needed to apply for state CDBG/ED programs. It also set the stage for a downtown renovation program and BRE Program that helped us keep one company and second one to expand. The BREs were always conducted in partnership with our Chamber and County economic development agency.
Another key piece was having a county economic development agency that worked with locals and a having a director that was willing to teach some of the details of ED deals. He also brought together the 3 largest cities in the county to co-market our communities and the county at large. We had the ability to take care of the local issues (planning the industrial park development, project budget, engineering estimates, environmental studies, etc), the agency handled the detailed financial analysis and was our leader at the state level. The County agency really completed our capacity to be involved in ED activities.
Many small communities (especially those with non-professional administrators) make a crucial error in delegating their ED programs to their county agencies. If a community has the organizational capacity, it needs to be fully engaged. In this writer’s opinion, anything less, is a waste of time and money. Communities that are not engaged will not see any development – or if they do, it will be less than they anticipated and they will not have any control/input in the process. Again, for this writer, having a professional staff – specifically, a professional city manager/administrator.
Think about it…an economic development program is as essential as a professionally trained police force, fire department and service department. I would go as far as saying that economic development is as important a city service as the three aforementioned services.
To recap, the organizational capacity includes some very specific skill sets, time, dedicated budgets, plans and leadership.
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