This graphic represents Mayor Damon Welch’s economic development proposal for the city and county. The mayor will present his proposal at the Jan. 22 Madison City Council meeting.
This graphic represents Mayor Damon Welch’s economic development proposal for the city and county. The mayor will present his proposal at the Jan. 22 Madison City Council meeting.
Mayor Damon Welch on Friday unveiled his economic development plan for Madison and Jefferson County, 11 days earlier than he had promised.

The plan calls for the creation of an 11-member board called the Jefferson County Indiana Vision & Economic Strategy Team (JC-INVEST). The board would oversee all aspects of economic development in the city and county and work toward bringing new business to the area and serving existing businesses.

Five members of the board would be elected officials: The Madison mayor, and one member each from the Madison City Council, the County Board of Commissioners, the County Council and the Hanover Town Council.

The other six members of the board would be involved in six disciplines Welch believes have an impact on economic development:

• Quality of Place, which would have a representative selected from several city departments, including Historic Preservation, the Parks Department and Riverfront Development Committee.

• Tourism, represented by the VisitMadison Inc. executive director, currently Linda Lytle.

• Downtown Development, represented by the Main Street Program Director, currently Whitney Wyatt.

• Small Business, represented by the Chamber of Commerce executive director, currently Trevor Crafton.

• Workforce Development, represented by the EcO15 director, currently Kathy Huffman.

• Industrial Development, represented by the Economic Development Partners director, currently Bernard Murphy. Murphy is the interim director. Once a permanent hire is made, that person will sit on the board.

The board would start out as a public entity, but Welch said the plan is for it to become a 501(c)3 group so that it can conduct private negotiations.

Once the oversight board is in place, Welch's plan calls for an overhaul in the structure of EDP. The plan would have EDP create a nine-member board, including seven representatives of business or industry leaders, the mayor and a county commissioner.

Board members would be limited to two, 3-year terms. Private membership dues would be required to be a member of EDP. The executive director would also be required to give quarterly reports to government bodies and provide public briefings after their monthly meetings.

The first task of the new board would be to commission a group to complete a strategic comprehensive plan for the city. The comprehensive plan would provide a long-term strategy for growth in the city and county.

Many grants the city has been seeking require a comprehensive plan in order to qualify. The city's last comprehensive plan was completed in 1999.

Without a professionally done strategic plan for your community, you can't even apply for some of these grants, Welch said.

The city cannot force EDP to restructure since it is a private organization. The city would likely pass a resolution saying this is the kind of organization the city would like to enter into an agreement with. EDP would have to take over and begin the changes from there.

Chip Orben, chairman of the EDP board, said Friday he had not seen the final recommendations of the mayor's report, but, based on previous conversations with Welch, he believes EDP would accept the structure. There are a couple spots Orben said the board might want to tweak.

"I don't think there's anything in there we couldn't work with," he said.

One of the issues Welch said is not up for negotiation is term limits, and Orben said the board agrees.

"Term limits are not an issue for us. We are more than willing to adjust the term limits we have," he said.

City officials seem confident this plan is going to succeed. But there are back-up plans in place. If EDP does not agree to restructure, Welch said the city can pursue economic development options on its own. The city has $80,000 in funds that must be used for economic development that it could use to create its own board.

"We could take the contract directly to the Board of Public Works, because we've got the money there," Welch said.

But that's not the route the mayor wants to take. Welch hopes to work with county and Hanover officials to create a group that will serve all agencies.

To create the JC-INVEST oversight board, the city and county will have to agree on an interlocal agreement establishing it. If the county does not agree, Welch said the board will just have three fewer seats.

The mayor's announcement comes on the heels of the formation of an economic development committee by City Council President Rick Berry. Welch and Berry had not discussed the mayor's economic development plan or Berry's committee decision before Tuesday's City Council meeting.

"I really feel like they forced my hand. I didn't want them to start a whole new process," Welch said of the reason he unveiled his plan early.

"The Council feels like they have been somewhat left out of the process," Berry said via telephone Friday. "As incoming Council president, it just felt like something I needed to do."

City attorney Joe Jenner said Friday that city ordinance only permits the mayor to form a committee, but Welch said he would allow the group to meet. The city also sent out a public meeting notice should other council members decide to attend.

Berry said he has ground rules in place for the meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The rules include time limits for speakers and no personal attacks.

"This meeting is not going to be about bashing the mayor's plan," Berry said.

Berry has high hopes for the plan. He believes term limits are one of the highlights, but hadn't had a chance to review the plan in its entirety.

Berry is still upset over a deal in which a California businesswoman promised to bring 200 jobs to the area. The council, uncertain of her credibility, voted to deny financial assistance for the enterprise.

Berry and several other members of City Council felt EDP had not done a sufficient job vetting the company before entering into negotiations. That is one reason, he said, he is eager to see changes made to EDP.