Since November, when a mostly secret vote to create a new authority to take over economic development sailed through the County Commission but was derailed by inquisitive city commissioners, there’s been a huge “what’s next?” dangling throughout the community.
We might hear some potential options this Monday courtesy of the City Commission. The board’s caucus meeting, beginning at 5 p.m. in the Sam King Room at City Hall, is expected to see the premiere of a possible funding plan complete with a potential new home for industrial recruitment as well. Economic development also is scheduled to be discussed by Mayor Bill Collins during the regular meeting, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Monday. Click agenda.
City and county leaders, in recent independent discussions, have said they were close to a proposal that they thought would be accepted by both commissions. Last week, we asked City Manager Sammy Rich and staff for an outline to accompany his scheduled presentation at Monday’s meetings. We were told the presentation was still being prepared. Our goal was to present that outline in this story to give the community a chance to review it in time to ask questions at Monday’s caucus and regular commission meetings.
We continue to await that response. Because of time and in light of the “hurry-up-and-vote” attempt from the Nov. 13 county and city meetings, we’re sharing what we’ve been told about the next step in recreating economic recruitment. The following has not been confirmed via Rich’s outline or other agenda material.
What we hear:
Both the city and county commissions would pledge $150,000 each, or $300,000 total, toward industrial recruitment. This likely would be for staffing purposes — the agency director, an existing industries coordinator and an administrator employee.
Another $200,000 would come from other sources — potentially the Rome Floyd Development Authority or the chamber’s Partners in Prosperity campaign — for other needs, potentially including office space.
A suggested location has been the garage-like structure that sits behind the chamber at 1 Riverside Parkway and across the street from the fire department. In this scenario, the industrial staff would have access to the chamber’s meeting room and other facilities on an as-needed basis.
What we don’t know: Would both the city and county commissions continue to help fund the Rome Floyd Chamber (combined current annual contributions, around $200,000).
If true, that’s $500,000 in first-year operations that weren’t needed while economic development was under the purview of the Rome Floyd Chamber. And would those become additional annual payments?
What we’re waiting to hear:
Will the Rome Floyd Development Authority officially be given “custody” of the new economic development team — and operations? The original concept blessed by the County Commission was to form a new authority with three appointments each by the city and county. The Rome Floyd authority responded by saying it should be the custodians, especially with its funding sources such as PILOT fees.
What becomes of the chamber? Pete McDonald, who was chamber chairman and one of the architects of those seeking control of economic development, handed the gavel to Elaine Abercrombie at Thursday’s chamber annual meeting. Earlier this month, McDonald was appointed to the Rome Floyd Development Authority, taking the seat formerly held by Otis Raybon.
Who leads whatever the chamber becomes? Al Hodge has left 1 Riverside Parkway but his retirement doesn’t take effect until mid April. Longtime staffer Jeanne Krueger has been named interim director.
And perhaps the biggest question:
What are the plans for industrial development moving forward? As previously reported by Hometown Headlines, Rome and Floyd County voters have approved roughly $24 million in economic development funding in the three most recent special purpose tax proposals. That includes real estate purchases, development fees, the runway extension at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport/Towers Field, a “spec” hangar there and such. Roughly $16 million remains basically on hold (economic development funds for the 2013 SPLOST ending March 31 of this year were among the last to be collected by county commission decision). Background
The community has one industrial site ready to build, the 110 acres in Shannon, and no spec buildings or other inducements to help lure new industry. Rome/Floyd already faces incredible competition for new clients because of easy access to I-75 in Bartow and Gordon counties. While quality of life is a selling point to prospects, other amenities are much higher on the list: interstate and rail access, land, buildings, tax incentives and work force.
The bottom line we’ve asked since day one: How does a change in the “management” of economic development accomplish anything if there have been no focused efforts to help the community compete with nearby rivals? Even the airport runway extension — again funded by SPLOST dollars — is on hold because bids for the project are believed to be $2 million above what was raised by the penny sales tax. Even as the City Commission has “found” $4 million for indoor tennis courts at the tennis center, there’s been no suggested assistance locally for the runway project believed to be key in both industry recruitment and retention. They are appealing to federal sources for help.
So perhaps we’ll get a few answers Monday evening. We’ll have coverage from the caucus meeting.