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[February 09, 2014]
Fayetteville City Council asked to consider economic development department [The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. :: ]
(Fayetteville Observer (NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 09--As a way to tackle one of the City Council's top priorities, city staff is looking to create a new city department to focus solely on economic development.
Deputy City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney proposed creating a Department of Economic and Business Development to coordinate efforts to recruit, retain and expand businesses in Fayetteville.
"We have a gap, and now we have an opportunity to close that gap," she told the council Saturday, the second day of its strategic planning session at the Embassy Suites. To close the gap, Small-Toney noted the need to focus on minority and women-owned enterprises, startups, small businesses and marketing the city's available business parks and redevelopment areas.
The proposal involves converting an existing management position that will be vacant because of retirement in June into the department's director and hiring three new staff members: an administrative assistant in July and then a business recruiter and development recruiter after the first of the year. Under the plan, beginning July 1, the department would have a pool of $500,000 to help promote and assist business development in the city.
Once staffed, the new department would then develop an economic development strategic plan and guidelines for use of the new fund. Once the program is in place, the department would market its resources to residents and the business community.
Although no guidelines for the $500,000 development fund have been set, Small-Toney said the vision for the fund is to provide loans to business owners that can fill gaps: help providing down payments for private funding, working capital or new equipment.
Councilman Bill Crisp was enthusiastic about the proposal.
"It's time," he said. "What we've been doing isn't working." But Councilman Jim Arp expressed concern that a new city department might duplicate services already offered by private organizations.
In that case, he said, "now we're taking taxpayer money and spending it twice." Small-Toney said the idea isn't to duplicate services, but rather to work in partnership with other organizations, providing a hub of information for people looking to start small businesses or other enterprises in Fayetteville.
"The challenge, I think, is where people enter into the system, finding help and finding support for their particular need, their particular business," she said.
The department staff would provide certain types of assistance that fill existing service gaps and refer to partners where appropriate.
Some of the council members expressed concern about leaving so much of the economic development responsibilities to outside organizations, which aren't accountable to the city.
"We're contracting out everything, and there is no internal control over it," Councilman Mitch Colvin said.
He asked the council whether it would contract out functions as important as police or fire protection, noting the high priority of economic development to the council. Many council members Saturday said economic development and building opportunities for residents are integral to combating the underlying causes of crime in the city. Only public safety emerged as a higher priority for the City Council as it ranked initiatives at the end of its two-day retreat.
"We have to make the investment it takes," Colvin said, and bring economic development activities in-house in order to get results.
Councilman Larry Wright Sr. said he is interested in seeing such a program create opportunity in the city with "fairness and equality to all," meaning providing paths for people who may have skills and talents but currently no opportunity to put them to use in the business world.
Through the course of the council's planning session, members proposed a number of economic development strategies, including vocational training programs, marketing the city's assets to recruit new businesses, and leveraging city funds to promote businesses that hire and train people who were formerly incarcerated.
Mayor Nat Robertson proposed the council devote a future work session to economic development, where council members can hear from representatives from local economic development agencies about the work they do in the city.
"I think there's (a) niche that perhaps the city could successfully fill," Robertson said after the retreat. "I want to make sure as we're going into this, we go in with eyes wide open and don't have any duplications with the Chamber, CEED or other community assets." Staff writer Paige Rentz can be reached at email@example.com or 486-2728.
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