TAKE 5: Public-private partnership moving forward

Jul. 20, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

This week, we Take 5 with Crystal Morphis, Lee County's interim Economic Development Corporation director, about the effort to create a single-entity organization which would oversee economic development, Chamber of Commerce activities and visitor efforts for the county. Morphis, owner of Creative Economic Development Consulting, is facilitating the work of a steering committee addressing the project.

The steering committee working to develop a program of work and priorities for a new single organization — which will address economic development, Chamber of Commerce and visitor marketing, among other things — has had its first meeting recently. What steps will you be leading the group through in the coming weeks and months to accomplish the objectives ahead of you?

The Steering Committee will review all previous studies, conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) Analysis, review economic and demographic trends, gather input from agencies and organizations involved in and impacted by economic development, study best practices in economic development organizational structure, and finally recommend a program of work and organizational structure to the county, city, town, EDC and Chamber for approval. Following the program of work planning phase, the Steering Committee will oversee a fundraising assessment. If the assessment is positive, it is anticipated that a private sector fundraising campaign will be conducted in 2014.

This effort is being called a public-private partnership. What do stakeholders — and that really means everyone in Lee County – need to know about those kinds of partnerships, and how it’ll specifically function in Lee County?

Public-private partnerships are the growing trend in economic development organizational structure. The model is leading the way because of the ability to engage a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the economic development program. These partnerships allow for a higher level of overall funding due to private investment. They are typically less political due to board make of private leaders in addition to public appointees. Public-private partnerships can often move more quickly than governmental entities and respond faster to business needs. The most important reason to implement the public-private model is diversity and stability of leadership.

As the economy’s engine — and job growth — continue to sputter in many ways, how are you working with Lee County, as the prime driver behind our economic development policy, to change our strategic approach to growing jobs locally?

The development of a new organizational model is a direct result of Lee County's realization that economic development is more than traditional industrial recruitment. By bringing together the Chamber and EDC, traditional economic development will be in the same strategic plan as small business development, entrepreneurship, existing business retention and expansion, and, hopefully, visitor services. A comprehensive economic development strategy recognizes the importance of the many puzzle pieces it takes to make an economy prosper. Implementing strategies for the broad vision of economic development is a more sustainable model.

There’s a been a great deal of uncertainty in Lee County’s EDC (Economic Development Corporation) efforts for some time now. How has that impacted our ability to recruit potential employers?

Stability on the EDC Board, Chamber, and in interim support services has ensured that Lee County has not missed recruitment opportunities. Recently, the EDC expanded services to be proactive in business retention and expansion to ensure opportunities for local expansions are not overlooked in the transition. However, uncertainty in policy can be negative to economic development efforts. The Lee County Board of Commissioners is completing a planning process that will help with policy development, and, therefore, eliminate some uncertainty. More uncertainty will be eliminated as the new organization is formed. Uncertainty in economic development is not only a local matter. There is uncertainty at the state level as the Department of Commerce seeks to transition to a public-private partnership.

The formation of this steering committee seems to indicate a much higher level of consensus in Lee County about economic development. But there’s been a lot of finger-pointing in the recent past. What’s the remedy for working through what’s occurred in the past to move forward to creating a new plan and integrating new goals into that plan for Lee County?

The Steering Committee does indicate a higher level of consensus because it encompasses all primary stakeholder groups in economic development working toward common goals and ultimately a common program of work. The Steering Committee recognizes that in order for Lee County to have sustained economic growth that everyone must work together. The time for finger-pointing is long gone. It is important that the Steering Committee, and Lee County leaders in general, keep returning to the common ground of sustainable economic growth. We believe that if people share a common goal, they will find a way to reach it.