Archive for Thursday, March 16, 2000

Finding economic development coordinator a priority

March 16, 2000

The first act of DeSoto's new Economic Development Committee will be to find a coordinator.

The new employee will place telephone calls, complete paperwork and assist the committee in attracting new businesses, City Administrator Gerald said. The coordinator will work 10 to 20 hours a week, with a salary depending on experience, he added.

The city's former economic development corporation was disbanded a few months ago by the city council. Its members decided at that time to restructure the committee and eventually place it under the supervision of the DeSoto Chamber of Commerce. That will not be done, however, until the committee is financially stable, Cooper said.

The new coordinator will play a part in helping the committee gain its financial independence, Cooper said. The committee is currently funded by the city council, which budgeted $25,000 for the year. City officials hope, in coming years, the program will be funded by donations from area business owners.

"It could be six months or a couple of years," Cooper said. "It depends on how the private donations go. If they come slowly, it will probably stay with the city for a while. If they come quickly, it would go to the chamber."

Chamber of Commerce President Pat Atchison said many people believe the chamber operated the former economic development corporation, but the two groups only shared a director, Marcia Dozier. The group was an independent corporation, she explained, which acted independently of the city and the chamber.

Atchison is anxious for the newly-formed committee to be transferred to the chamber and will assist in the fundraising efforts, she said.

"It ultimately belongs under the chamber. The city should be in the business of governing and the business community should handle the economic development," Atchison said.

Conflict of interest issues can arise when the city is involved in attracting new businesses to town, particularly when tax abatements are involved, she said.

"It creates a situation where potential business owners don't feel real confident negotiating with the city on

See Economic, Page 5A

tax abatements when they're the ones who will make the final decision," she said. "They can be made to feel they're at the city's mercy without a third party negotiating for them."

Chamber members also have experience on their side, Atchison said.

"The Chamber consists of all business people," she said. "City council members may or may not have business experience, depending on who's elected. They may not have the experience to know what is needed."

Atchison is a member of the new committee, which is still trying to formulate a game plan.

"We're still hashing things out," Chairperson Estella Moll said. "We're going to meet every week until we've got a direction. Right now, we're in the process of building and restructuring."

The goal of the committee is a little easier to define, Moll said.

"Our overall goal is to make sure the business that does come to DeSoto is compatible to the city's vision," she said. "Everything we do will be presented to the city council. We want to be on the same track. We don't want to be wining and dining a business to come here, then find out it doesn't fit with the city's vision."

Ideally, Moll said, the new economic coordinator would come from within the community.

"We would love to find someone who is already here and familiar with DeSoto," she said. "We want this person to move themselves to the front line. When a prospective business or new resident calls with questions about the city, this person would be the first one they talk to."

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