LETTER: Now is the time to find a way forward

Mar. 09, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

To the Editor:

Attending the recent Lee County Economic Development Summit, I came away hopeful — yet concerned. I was hopeful because citizens and business leaders had joined with elected officials to try and reignite economic development. I was concerned that we must not fail this time to find a way forward to recover from the damaging effects of the great recession on our community.

To this end, a thoughtful and well done strategic planning study was conducted and presented by the Small Business and Technology Development Center, authorized by the Lee Board of Commissioners in 2012. The study was based on input from several hundred business leaders and elected officials.

Across the day, the most often used words or ideas conveyed to this listener were: skilled jobs deficit, skilled job training, public-private investments, risk capital, shared interests, creative and inspired leadership, skin in the game, quality of life, good faith and trust and closed for business! The meeting ended upbeat, but with some leaders at cross points on how to proceed, funding questions, and how to manage a new initiative for maximum, positive results.

If we are to succeed this time — and we have no time to lose — a set of guiding principles should be crafted and agreed to by carefully chosen stakeholders. They would determine how much needs to be invested initially, and how to promote and incentivize the growth of new jobs in large and small businesses. Corporate responsibility would be placed upon an independent, tax-exempt board of directors that would be responsible for overseeing the operation, managed by an executive director and staff.

Stakeholders would represent the broad public service sector of our community, our public and community educational industry. This would be matched by private business and industry. There would be an upper limit on stakeholder investments to assure parity and to avoid “controlling interests” of any one entity. Funding would be 50:50 (approx.) private to public investments. A 10-year operations plan would be highly desirable to assure time to build and to execute the plan without undue outside interference or unrealistic, short-term expectations. An investment-oriented budget with an inviolate 10-year financial commitment would be reasonable and appropriate to help ensure success and to protect the venture.

This is the time to invest smartly in Lee County. This is time to work together for the common good; nothing else will do!

Richard Hayes