BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – A side conversation that developed during the budget workshop has Lee County Supervisors curious about efforts for new business in the county.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors held their budget workshops Monday and Tuesday and when reviewing commitments to the economic development group stopped and dissected the contributions to Lee County Economic Development Group.
In the current 2017 fiscal year budget, the county is contributing $210,000 to the group. Board member Ron Fedler said LCEDG has traditionally split the money 40% expansion efforts, 40% retention efforts and 10% for attracting new business.
“That’s still 10% unaccounted for but you’re always going to have a certain percentage of businesses that products get outdated or they haven’t kept up or whatever. You need something to replace those and I don’t think 10% is enough to help with that replacement,” Fedler said.
Supervisor Don Hunold said it may be time for the boards to get together and discuss how the money is being spent, even if that means a year from now when current Chief Executive Office Joe Steil has had a year with the group.
“Well a year from now maybe we should sit down and say ‘You’ve got a year under your belt with new leadership. Where are we at? What did we do? Did we bring jobs in? For $210,000 I want to know what they did. I don’t think that’s asking for anything anybody else wouldn’t ask.”
Steil said the percentages are literal per agreements reached between the two entities, but he also said the actual numbers paint a different picture.
“Based upon the strategic plan of LCEDG it was broken down for 10% on new business attraction. The board would just like to see more dollars going towards business attraction because that helps expand their tax base and that’s very understandable. We are confident there is more than 10% going to that and we’re going to address that in a meeting with them.”
“We’re into this for $210,000 a year and we’ve been doing that for what 10, 12 years now,” Supervisor Gary Folluo said.
“Our job is to increase tax base, we’re putting up $210,ooo per year to enhance the tax base and 10% just isn’t doing it.”
He said he’d like to see the LCEDG commit to a certain amount of time to new business attraction, but Supervisor Matt Pflug said that would be hard to track.
“I would like to see LCEDG earmark 20% of their time dedicated to attraction and I think that’s something we would accomplish before we approve this budget,” Folluo said.
“You’re never gonna track everything, but at least if it’s in their mindset that the Board of Supervisor says this is what we want and we’re funding you at 210K, this is what we’re asking you to do.”
Pflug said things may be changing in the way revenues are created and staff is dedicated.
“Maybe their mindset is changing and they’re working with the workforce side of things, but you can’t forget new businesses may be wanting to come through the door,” he said.
Fedler shared an instance out of Fort Madison that he said showed the dangers of not putting more effort into recruitment.
“We had a Fort Madison cardboard plant and they were bought out by a larger company just to close them down. They bought them out to eliminate the competition, and there’s nothing the city or the county could do to stop it, and that could happen again sometime to a business in our county. You just don’t know,” he said.
Steil said the LCEDG and the board have scheduled a meeting for Jan. 20 to discuss the efforts and how money is being spent.