Monti council, EDA commissioners listen to economic development services pitch

City leaders and the Monticello Economic Development Authority (EDA) are considering a unique proposal pitched by the city’s consulting engineering firm.
Council members and EDA commissioners were asked Monday to review a plan from WSB & Associates for services related to economic development.
Bret Weiss, president of WSB & Associates, Inc., the city’s consulting engineering firm, introduced John Uphoff, an economic development specialist, and Public Engineer Brian J. Bourassa, a WSB principal, senior project manager and economic development specialist at the start of Monday’s special meeting.
City Administrator Jeff O’Neill, Community Development Director Angela Schumann and Finance Director Wayne Oberg provided additional details about the proposed economic development services concept in a background memo. A half-hour open house was conducted prior to the joint council and EDA meeting.
The city has been evaluating options for economic development since the departure of Economic Development Director Megan Barnett-Livgard in mid-2012.
In December, staff presented to the EDA and Council the idea of making a strategic shift in the city’s economic development program.
The idea would be to move the position away from traditional marketing production and any administrative duties, focusing instead primarily on lead development and sales outreach. According to city officials, Monticello is currently running at a disadvantage in terms of asset inventory and true sales outreach.
While city staff has a good understanding of available land and buildings, the ability to pull relevant information requested by a site selector, prospector, or business in a prompt manner is not possible at the present time.
Data maintenance and assembly remain difficult tasks due to changing information and disconnected sources. During the Monticello EDA’s 2013 work planning session, commissioners identified the identification of assets and creation of marketing collateral materials for available properties as a top priority. WSB’s new economic development services approach would create a land and building inventory database of the city’s key assets.
While marketing the community has been a strength within Monticello’s economic development department, the city’s past approach to economic development did not emphasize the “sale” of Monticello. WSB’s proposal will include significant level of external outreach and as such offers the opportunity to build name recognition and foster lead development beyond Monticello in a much more active way. O’Neill, Schumann and Oberg stated in their background memo that focused prospecting has been a program weakness. The WSB proposal is one possible alternative to filling the city’s economic development services need.
The WSB proposal includes a monthly fee for service in the amount of $4,000. According to city officials, for this fee, a significant amount of data organization, formatting and maintenance would be included.
Due to the city’s longstanding relationship with WSB in development of Monticello’s GIS system, the firm is in good position to assist in the development and mining of data as a productive economic development resource. Under the WSB arrangement, existing staff will be more involved in the site development process including identification of development site locations along with involvement in development of financing proposals.
“It is our view that between the city administrator, finance director and community development director, as well as the as-needed utilization of consultants such as Ehlers and Northland Securities, there is capacity within our current staff to fully assist with closing deals and proactively assisting a prospect from initial interest to a completed development,” O’Neill, Oberg and Schumann wrote in their background memo.
Additionally, under the WSB alternative, there will be a number of services or activities previously provided by the economic development director that the City will need to determine how to replace, or provide on a more limited basis. Maintenance of an active business retention program and facilitation of the Embrace Downtown project and other activities may not get as much staff attention if the WSB option is selected.
According to city officials, the cost to hire a staff person for the position of economic development prospector is difficult to estimate. The current pay range for such a position ranges from $49,784 to $64,719 plus benefits ($20,000) for a total cost of $70,000 to $85,000 annually.
Staff reviewed WSB’s proposal in detail prior to Monday night’s special meeting with council members and EDA commissioners. City officials believe WSB’ s new service product is tailored to Monticello’s needs and the evolving idea of a sales-based economic development strategy.
O’Neill, Oberg and Schumann also stated in their background memo city staff was struggling with the issues of incentives, commission-based salary and expense generation which would come with the creation of a city-employed economic development salesperson.
See next week’s print and online editions of the Monticello Times for a follow-up report on Monday night’s special economic development services discussion.

Contact Managing Editor Tim Hennagir at tim.hennagir@ecm-inc.com

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