City, county discuss JC-INVEST details
Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:00 AM
County officials on Wednesday offered their first public comments - mostly positive - about Mayor Damon Welch's plan for an advisory board to oversee Jefferson County economic development.
The meeting was the first between city and county officials to discuss the proposed Jefferson County Indiana Vision and Economic Strategy Team (JC-INVEST). The board is part of the economic development strategy unveiled in January by Welch.
The board would have five elected officials - the mayor and representatives from the City Council, County Council, County Commissioners and Town Council of Hanover - and six representatives from industry sectors.
The six industry sectors would be industrial development, workforce development/education, small business, downtown development, tourism and quality of place.
The six sectors would include city and county organizations such as the Jefferson County Historical Society, the Chamber of Commerce and Visit Madison Inc., among many others. Members of the board would serve a one-year term.
The group would be tasked with generating economic development.
Welch said the first priority of the board would be to hire an outside consultant to create a strategic plan for economic development in the city and county. JC-INVEST will not have a budget, so money to hire the consultant would have to be approved by the legislative bodies.
Both city and county officials spoke in favor of the proposed board, but admitted there could be changes and improvements made.
County Council member Larry Wynn said there should be more variety in terms of the people who are put on the board.
"It just seems to me we're being redundant with the same people on the same boards," Wynn said. "I don't know how we move forward with the same people."
Wynn also felt agriculture was not given enough of a stake in JC-INVEST. He acknowledged that the current plan includes agriculture under industrial development, but he felt it should have a greater representation on the board.
Along that same line, Wynn felt county residents weren't getting as great of an opportunity to have their voices heard on this board.
"I feel like a lot of this is made up of people from the city. I just don't know that the county is being represented as a whole," he said.
City Councilman Jim Lee said developing current assets should be a priority for this board. While jobs and factories can relocate, Jefferson County does have more to offer besides employment.
"We're not going to send our historic buildings to another country. They're here. And I do think we can make them a greater part of our economic development," Lee said.
The importance of keeping infrastructure current to avoid harming existing business was mentioned by several officials.
County Council member Bill Hensler said the plan wasn't perfect, but he felt it was a step in the right direction to increase communication and find the right path to improving economic development.
"If we continue to do nothing, we're going to be right where we were," Hensler said. "It's not perfect. We don't know what it's going to grow into ... But we've got to do something."
Members of the public also had input on improving the board, which included setting clear, measurable goals and implementing a sunset provision that would prevent the board from sitting dormant for too long.
The JC-INVEST board was tabled from its second reading at the previous City Council meeting. Any possible amendments to the proposal could be brought up at the Council's April 2 meeting, which is when the second reading is expected to be held.
Elected officials who attended the meeting included:
City Council members - Pete Backus, Rick Berry, Laura Hodges, Dick Jones and Lee.
County Commissioners - Mark Cash, Robert Little and Tom Pietrykowski.
County Council members - Kevin Britt, Joe Craig, Hensler and Wynn.
No one from Hanover was able to attend the meeting, but Welch said board president Debbie Kroger said they were on board with the mayor's plan.