Death By Task Force
Has the county's long-troubled Economic Development Commission met its end?
Thursday, August 12, 1999
Every week for several weeks now a specially appointed task force has met to look at how best to provide good economic development service for Monterey County. Unless there is a surprising breakthrough, the group will continue meeting for several months to come.
At issue is the performance of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The private nonprofit agency was organized in 1982 to develop economic opportunities in the county by providing technical and businesss assistance to existing businesses and by attracting compatible new businesses by providing resources and information. It does this by administering revolving loan programs to small businesses that might not otherwise get bank loans for equipment or expansion, by running the county''s regranting program assisting other local nonprofits, and by marketing Monterey County as a great place in order to attract new businesses.
For the last few years, however, there has been friction between the county and the EDC. That friction turned to fire last month.
At its meeting on July 13, the Board of Supervisors approved recommendations by the Overall Economic Development Commission (OEDC) to deny funding of the EDC''s 1999/2000 Development Set-Aside plan and appointed the OEDC to administer the program. The supervisors also appointed a task force to make a comprehensive review of the EDC and its programs.
The OEDC, a 20-member advisory body appointed by the supervisors, recommended that the EDC''s work plan should not be funded because it "did not contain sufficient programs and activities to effectively address the key economic and development issues of Monterey County."
According to the brief OEDC report, many of the programs submitted by the EDC are the same as last year''s. The report also refers to ongoing needs to improve the organizational structure and business plan, cites inadequate marketing strategies, and notes that the 25-member EDC board does not represent agriculture and other key industries.
While the OEDC report includes two pages of brief bulleted items critical of the EDC''s past performance, budget and work plan, insiders refuse to expand beyond the report.
"It doesn''t serve any purpose to discuss it," says Joe Green, OEDC chair and a member of the task force. "There''s not anything more to say. It''s a matter now of working on the job assigned by the Board of Supervisors: to be as efficient and thoughtful and long-range looking as we can be."
The issue of economic development is inherently controversial in Monterey County, says Joseph Cavanaugh, EDC executive director. "We''re involved in what is a larger community debate about what direction [the county] is going in," explains Cavanaugh. "Should we have economic development? Should it be local firms or firms from outside? There are Fort Ord issues, ag land issues. There is support for no growth, there is some support for growth. Environmental compatibility is a strong factor."
According to Green, the charge of the task force is to come up with a 21st century concept for economic development for the county. To do that, the task force will study both successful and unsuccessful economic development programs in the state. A status report will be provided to the Board of Supervisors by Sept. 30, and Green says the task force plans to complete its report and recommendations by the end of November.
Other OEDC representatives on the task force are Jose Rios and Linda English. EDC members on the task force are Carlos Ramos, Sylvania Stratton and Jeff Davi, EDC president.
"We''re just looking to what''s best for the county in the new century," comments Davi. "It''s a simple case of the county moving forward and planning."
"We''re open to change," says Cavanaugh. "We are business people. The county is government. We are partners and work with them but sometimes the control issue is one where we differ. It''s a long and difficult disagreement that''s gone on for a number of years. It''s not good to go into [the problems] because the task force needs to work that out without negativity."
"My viewpoint is to participate fully in the task force," Cavanaugh continues, "and see what comes out of it. If we can support it, great. If we can''t agree with it, we could become fully privately funded. If the partnership is better formed, I''m all for it. The smart thing to do is to wait and see what the task force comes up with. When we make decisions for the future, it''s better to do it with a cool head."