Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Amador supervisors' funding for economic development

In case you missed the news, the Amador Business Council has approached the Amador County Board of Supervisors about contributing funds to a new economic development corporation. Never mind there's already an EDC in the county. The supervisors have asked the groups to try to resolve their differences and come back to discuss the funding request.

Meanwhile, I decided to weigh in on the subject with the supervisors, for what little my opinion is worth. We'll see how many of them respond to me or even acknowledge receiving my note. Want to make bets?

Here's what I e-mailed them yesterday:
Dear Chairman Plasse and Members of the Board:

I am writing as a private citizen and a county taxpayer, not as a representative of any group.

I strongly support community and government investment in local economic development. However, I do not support the County of Amador simply giving money to groups that come and ask for it without an objective, criteria-based look at their accomplishments and qualifications. The process should be open to any organization or economic development firm that is interested and able to provide the needed service so that the public is assured its money will be well spent.

Consequently, I would suggest that rather than give money to the Amador Business Council for a new economic development corporation, the county should take the more usual, professional governmental approach: Issue a Request for Proposals or Request for Qualifications and see who applies. The ABC, if interested, can then compete with others who may be as well or better qualified to spend taxpayer dollars in a productive, accountable way.

Before you issue the RFP or RFQ, CAO Chuck Iley, who I gather has extensive experience in contracting, could then work with the appropriate committee and then the full board to develop a set of criteria that would be used to review the submittals and choose the most qualified applicant with the best proposal. I would suggest that those criteria include a demonstrated record of success in economic development, as measured by jobs created, taxable sales increased, increased value of commodities produced, increased value of nonresidential construction, decreased unemployment, wages increased, percentage of new businesses surviving more than two years, poverty levels declining, percentage of employees in family wage jobs increasing, and other objective measures. The proposal should clearly lay out the expected results from the funding, using similar benchmarks so that you can hold the recipient accountable for the funds invested.

If you use an RFP rather than an RFQ, one of the scoring criteria should be the demonstrated success of the applicant.

Using a process of this type, you can select the most qualified applicant and best proposal, and the public can be better assured of getting results for our tax dollars. If the recipient doesn't perform, you can choose not to fund them in the future.

You might also consider setting up an economic development ad hoc committee that includes members of the public to assist with this process. If you do, I recommend that you include people from the full range of local economic sectors to ensure a balanced view. The committee could also benefit from the perspective of agencies like A-TCAA and Job Connection.

If local business owners want to contribute money toward economic development, they would still be free to pledge their funds as they have done with the ABC proposal.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

Best regards,
Katherine K. Evatt