Columbia County Updates Econ Dev Strategic Plan Stakeholders Not Part of the Process
Posted January 3, 2017 07:45 pm
COLUMBIA COUNTY/LAKE CITY, FL – On November 28, 2016, after a couple of false starts, the Economic Development Advisory Board Strategic Plan Subcommittee met to update the $40,000 2014 County Economic Development Strategic Plan. It was a private affair. The committee did not include Columbia County stakeholders and Lake City's representative, City Manager Wendell Johnson was MIA.
Other stakeholders missing from the table were the Lake City/Columbia County Chamber of Commerce; representatives from the educational community, FGC and the Columbia County School District; industry representatives.
Upgrading the Numbers
The Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) Strategic Plan Subcommittee updated the statistics. The Regional Labor Analysis shows a great unexplained disparity.
The job earnings category in the updated plan does not upgrade the earnings categories to reflect the number of workers not making a living wage. It is well established that a single mother needs to earn $22,000 or $1,833 per month to survive independently.
Columbia County has repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn't care about living wages and the plan intentionally remains unclear.
SWOT Analysis: Dishonest
The upgraded SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis speaks for itself.
The strengths are the same between the 2014 and the updated plans: access to major transportation assets (rail, ports, highways); geographic location; access to higher education; proximity to airports; and the Rural Area of Opportunity designation, which is really a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern (RACEC). The RACEC name change came courtesy of the FL League of Cities and the FL Legislature.
The major weaknesses have been distorted. Lack of a well educated, ambitious labor pool, has been changed to: lack of a higher educated labor pool.
The original plan listed as a weakness the "lack of a working relationship between the City/County." This item was disappeared from the new plan. The decision was made by Commissioner Nash and businessman Stephen Douglas during the November 28 meeting, a meeting in which City Manager Johnson, who volunteered to be a committee member, was MIA.
The committee couldn't eliminate the other weaknesses: large low income community/poverty rate; quality of life amenities limited (recreation/shopping); lack of infrastructure (water, wastewater, natural gas).
The opportunities remained basically the same: a local airport; tourism; and the aviation academy, whose future, financing; and staffing has been chronically problematic.
The Committee redefined the threats in the analysis. The number 1 threat: City/County relationship was disappeared. The number 2 threat: high real estate taxes was changed by removing the "high" to "real estate taxes." The other chronic threats remained the same: competing communities and states; utility availability and slow reactionary approach to areas of promise; delay of JAXPORT improvements.
Measuring Return on Investment
The $40,000 2014 plan called for quarterly reports to measure the success of the plan and various metrics, such as the frequency of use of grants and incentives; active projects; attendance of stakeholder groups; and business retention and expansion reports.
During the past two years, the Economic Development Department has produced zero reports and has failed to complete or have completed incentive applications. The department is supervised by Assistant County Manager Scott Ward, whose resume lacks any kind of economic development experience.
The updated strategic plan removed the requirement that the progress of projects, policy, and programs be reported on quarterly. The purpose of quarterly reports was to "be used to track and identify areas to improve or change."
The committee removed the requirement for quarterly reports, updating it to annual reports.
Columbia County: the legend continues.