Econ Dev Strategic Plan Committee Meets: More Interested in Massaging the Truth Than Telling It
Posted November 29, 2016 08:12 am
(left) Commissioner Bucky Nash looks at the Plan while Board member Stephen Douglas listens to Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter make a point.
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday afternoon, the twice canceled Economic Development Advisory Board Strategic Planning Subcommittee finally met. Half the membership showed up. After 2 1/2 hours of discussion, it was clear that the subcommittee had no idea what a strategic economic development plan was and that it was more interested in massaging the truth than telling it.
In 2009, Columbia County's Industrial Development Authority (IDA), since dissolved, approved spending almost $80,000 on a Strategic Plan (the Plan). The Plan was facilitated by Fairfield Index and was developed with a County group called the Rudder Team, affectionately known in some circles as the "Udder Team." For some time members of the County 5 didn't know of its meetings and existence.
In June 2013, Columbia County's then Economic Development Director, Jesse Quillen, announced that Columbia County was the first community in Florida to be awarded $40,000 by Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to produce what ultimately became known as the Columbia County Strategic Plan 2014-2018.
Like the "Udder Team Plan," this plan was also mainly unknown and ignored.
Not counting staff time, Columbia County has spent $120,000 on "Strategic Plans" that most everybody knew nothing about.
What is a Strategic Plan
A strategic plan is a management tool.
Forbes, in its 2011 article, "Five Steps to a Strategic Plan" listed 5 steps: 1. Determine where you are; 2. Identify what's important; 3. Define what you must achieve; 4. Determine who is accountable; 5. Review – Review – Review.
The Balanced Scorecard Institute defined a strategic plan this way: "A document used to communicate with the organization the organization's goals, the actions needed to achieve those goals and all of the other critical elements developed during the planning exercise."
Yesterday Afternoon's Strategic Planning Meeting
The Strategic Plan Subcommittee cancelled its first meeting because County 5 Chairman Sylvester "Bucky" Nash was on vacation. The second meeting was cancelled because only Bucky Nash showed up.
City Manager Wendell Johnson (file)
In between the meeting cancellations it became clear that attendance for Columbia County strategic planning meetings was problematic. City Manager Wendell Johnson, a self-proclaimed economic development expert, volunteered to join the Strategic Plan Subcommittee.
Yesterday, City Manager Johnson was MIA at the committee meeting.
There is no record of the City Manager advising the County's Economic Development Department that he would not attend.
Two Hours of Conversation: What is a Strategic Plan?
For over two hours the Columbia County Strategic Plan 2014-2018 was discussed.
Glenn Hunter (file)
Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter facilitated the meeting. He introduced the old plan never explaining what a strategic plan was. From the discussion, it was not clear if Director Hunter, Commissioner Nash, or Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) member Stephen Douglas knew what a strategic plan was.
The only person on the Committee that might have known, City Manager Wendell Johnson, was MIA.
Updating the Numbers
The Committee agreed to update the 4 year old demographics. It also agreed to find out the origin of some of the original population figures, as no one knew from where they came. Commissioner Nash wanted to know.
2014: Less Than a Living Wage
The Plan showed that in 2014, 23.3% of the jobs within a 60 mile radius of Columbia County paid $7.21/hr., considerably less than a living wage
Mr. Hunter said, "This has been progressively going backwards if you listen to what the economists have been saying."
While the Plan did include regional numbers, it did not flush out the numbers for Columbia County. None of the Committee members asked that they be included.
Jobs by Industry Sector
The Committee Missed the Boat
The Plan listed jobs by "Industry Sector" within a 60 mile radius of the County. Mr. Hunter thought this part of the Plan referenced Columbia County. The Health Care Sector showed 119,678 jobs, which is approximately 60,000 more jobs in the sector than there are people residing in the County.
Neither Mr. Nash nor Mr. Douglas picked up on this.
Mr. Douglas asked, "So these are our top existing sectors in Columbia County?"
Mr. Hunter answered, "As they relate to Columbia County."
Weaknesses: (disadvantages relative to other communities)
The Plan included a category called, "Weaknesses: (disadvantages relative to other communities)."
Mr. Douglas thought the weaknesses were harsh. "Maybe we could soften it up," he said.
Mr. Nash wanted to remove number 2, the City/County working relationship. He did not mention the City Manager's unexplained absence from the day's County meeting.
Commissioner Nash listens to Mr. Hunter.
Mr. Nash also wanted to revamp number 1: "Lack of well educated, ambitious labor pool."
Mr. Hunter thought that the "lack of an ambitious labor pool" was a "stab in the back."
Mr. Nash suggested softening up "lack of well educated" to lack of "higher" educated.
Flying in the face of reality, Mr. Nash and Mr. Douglas decided to remove "lack of an ambitious labor pool."
On and on it went: massaging and changing the reality of anything that might highlight the necessity of change in Columbia County; sugar coating and taking shortcuts regarding the real issues facing rural Columbia County.
A discussion regarding the worker training at HAECO* demonstrated that the County economic development wizards were out of touch, or were not being honest, regarding the massive issues surrounding workforce training at HAECO and the real issues regarding worker training in North Carolina.
The Economic Development Department will be incorporating the committee changes into the Strategic Plan for a presentation to the Economic Development Advisory Board in January.
After 2 hours and thirty minutes of talking, the only thing that was clear was that a cogent strategic economic development plan for Columbia County, if anyone knew what real strategic planning is, was far on the horizon.
* Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company, HAECO (formerly TIMCO), is one of the world’s leading independent aircraft engineering and maintenance groups. It operates a maintenance facility at Lake City's airport. It is headquartered in Hong Kong