COLLIER COUNTY — With the Collier County Economic Development Council closing in less than a week, County Manager Leo Ochs unveiled his vision Friday for the county’s continuing role in building a friendly business climate.
At a joint workshop between EDC leaders and county commissioners, Ochs proposed a government structure overseen by a new “Office of Business and Economic Development.”
About 50 people filled the Collier County commission chambers for the workshop.
Ochs suggested a new project manager position for economic development, responsible for taking business referrals and helping develop a plan to continue attracting new businesses to the county.
Also, in a Sept. 20 memo sent to county commissioners, Ochs called for county government to be a direct partner in the “economic development delivery system,” create an internal economic team to implement the system, and create a consistent and reliable incentive package for businesses.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and community involvement, but we cannot wait,” Collier County Economic Development Council president Bob Mulhere said. “We have to move forward.”
The new Office of Business and Economic Development would have two full-time employees according to the proposal — an executive director and the project manager — as well as a part-time impact fee manager, a position which already exists. It would work with an annual budget of $251,800.
The executive director, which would report to the county manager, would earn $120,000, while the project manager would make $59,500. The impact fee manager would make $72,300.
Ochs wanted to fill the project manager position as soon as possible, as the EDC transitions, so the county doesn’t lose potential businesses, he said.
Mulhere, a professional planner, said he doesn’t plan to apply for the project manager position, nor the executive director position. There are qualified EDC staff who could potentially fill the position, he said.
Commissioners didn’t take a final vote on the plan at the workshop.
“I’m looking forward to the next step in economic development,” Commissioner Tom Henning said.
At the workshop, Jim McGraw, CEO of KMK Consulting Co., which developed a new strategic plan for growing jobs locally and regionally, also outlined his recommendations for change.
The strategic plan, released earlier this month, recommended replacing the EDC with an entirely new, reinvigorated organization, supported entirely by private businesses. The new group would focus on keeping and growing jobs.
Two of five public speakers spoke against eliminating the current EDC staff in order to start with a fresh staff.
McGraw recommended the creation of a new multi-county economic development organization. Initially, Collier and Lee counties would come together in a new regional partnership. It would cost Collier $350,000 annually.
Similar to Ochs recommendation, the consultant also recommended the county hire a full-time economic development director who would report to the county manager.
KMK wants the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce to get more involved in promoting local business, too. The chamber has already agreed.
In addition, the new organization could create business relationships, including partnerships with local universities.
The strategy calls for a $1.1 million budget of private sector investments, according to the consultant plan.
KMK suggested a creation of a consistent and reliable incentive package, to help demonstrate an “open for business” attitude. KMK also recommended being more business friendly.
McGraw recommended the first phase of implementation start Oct. 1. He suggested the build-out of all structure details be done in three months, executive searches for staff leaders in four months, and private and public sector investments be secured in six months.
The plan identifies 10 bold goals to achieve over the next five years including creating a private capital fund of $500 million to invest in innovative companies.
The EDC was established in 1976 as a private group, supported only by private companies. In 1997, the council evolved into a public-private partnership.
The council has been receiving $400,000 of taxpayer money a year to support its operations.
Among five public speakers was Richard Federman, a retired financial services executive.
“Government has been kicking the can down the road. We are down the road now,” Federman said. “We must take brave action now to implement change and have leaders embrace it.”
Federman is concerned about implications of negative economic growth on his children, he said.
Bill Barton, a former EDC chairman, wants to the county to increase its EDC funds. Although funding is important, perhaps attitude is more important, Barton said.
“We need to convey that Collier County is open for business,” he said, “and we want to attract the right kind of business and industry.”
Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/