COLLIER COUNTY — When business is bad, you don’t fire the salesman.
That was Collier County Commissioner Fred Coyle’s advice on Monday when commissioners realized that $400,000 had not been set aside in the county’s budget for the Economic Development Council of Collier County.
The Economic Development Council (EDC), which is in the midst of an initiative called Project Innovation to attract new and diverse businesses to stem the tide of Southwest Florida’s recession, counts on the county’s annual $400,000 contribution, said its chief, Tammie Nemecek.
“We’ve enjoyed a public-private partnership since 1997-98. The Board of County Commissioners agreed to help in the diversification of our economy,” Nemecek said.
While county officials tossed around ideas on Monday during its first round of budget talks, including one to turn occupational license money over to the EDC, Nemecek came back on Tuesday with reinforcements.
Mike Pavento, vice president of finance for 4WHAT Interactive, told commissioners that the EDC is one of the most professional groups he’s ever worked with.
“I run a CPA firm. I’ve worked for international companies. I’ve traveled the world. These people have done a great job,” Pavento said. “They’ve looked at workforce training, and how to go about getting grants. They’ve helped with employee relocation services.”
The EDC has several programs that help businesses cut through red tape, he said.
“This is what is needed in small business. I’m not an economist but small and medium businesses are going to lead the way for the county to (emerge) from its economic depression,” Pavento said.
Air Technology Engines President Mike Turner agreed.
Surviving a recession or depression requires ingenuity, he said. The EDC has that.
Noting that he builds helicopter engines and has a global clientele, Turner stressed the importance of diversification, the EDC’s byword.
“The EDC has been invaluable as an advocate, helping businesses identify opportunities,” Turner said.
Longtime Collier resident and businessman Bob Mulhere is on the EDC board, but noted that he is also a parent, a property owner, the owner of a small business, and children who are just entering the work world.
They’d like to be able to find work in Collier County, he said.
“You should be able to find a way to fund the EDC as you have in the past,” Mulhere told commissioners.
The commissioners agreed to find a way to push the $400,000 back into their budget.
Not everyone was thrilled with the idea.
Productivity Committee member Janet Vasey noted that $400,000 is a lot of money and can be used to preserve county jobs.
Furthermore, the EDC has often cheered on state legislation that has worked against the commission and county coffers, Vasey said.
The most recent situation involved impact fees, she said. Impact fees are just what they sound like: sums of money builders pay to offset the impact of their developments.
EDC members said they didn’t lobby against the county commission’s interests. However, they did participate in a ceremonial signing of economic development bills — including limits on impact fees –– when Gov. Charlie Crist visited Naples last month.