Economic development in Erie County now firmly resides with county commissioners after Greater Erie Marketing's executive committee voted 7-0 Thursday to ask them to form a new "one-stop shop" countywide agency.
The resolution approved by the GEM committee asks county commissioners to reorganize the Erie Community Improvement Corp. to form the new organization. GEM and its two employees would be folded into the new agency, said James Smith, chairman of the GEM executive committee and vice president of economic development for Bowling Green State University.
Smith said the revamped Erie CIC will fulfill the goals set by the so-called "gang of eight" area business leaders and later developed by the Erie County Chamber of Commerce.
Frustration with GEM and the lack of a united approach among competing interests across different communities in the county led the business leaders to begin meeting in April. Those efforts were followed up by members of the Erie County Chamber of Commerce, who met numerous times to develop the proposal.
County Commissioner Tom Ferrell suggested the county consider the CIC approach. Ferrell said the idea of using the CIC as a vehicle came after he and Mark Litten, GEM executive director, met with owners of local businesses considering relocating in the county and expanding.
By law, at least 40 percent of a CIC board must be made up of government representatives. Erie County's CIC has been largely inactive in recent years. In other counties, including Ottawa County, the local CIC is the main economic development organization.
Thursday's vote came after a presentation by Jerry M. Hayes, executive director of Economic Development of Defiance County, who said he believes using the Defiance County CIC has worked well there.
The resolution approved by the GEM executive committee asks commissioners to respond to the proposal by Sept. 18, when the full GEM board will have its quarterly meeting.
All three Erie County commissioners attended the meeting. Commissioner Bill Monaghan is a member of the GEM executive committee and voted for the proposal.
Ferrell, who is not a member of the executive committee, said after the meeting he's willing to consider the CIC proposal. Hayes' presentation made it appear that the approach would offer many advantages, he said.
Commissioner Nancy McKeen, however, expressed some trepidation. She said Defiance County's economic development issues are very different from the issues in Erie County.
"We probably need to look at this a little bit more," she said.
Monaghan said he doesn't know yet when the proposal will appear on the commissioners' agenda.
"Hopefully very soon," he said.
Hayes said the Defiance County CIC has worked well because everyone has agreed to work together. Many counties have entities that compete against each other, and that's disastrous, Hayes said.
"I have been lucky, we have not had internal conflicts," he said.
Members of the board have agreed they can disagree in private, "but don't do it in public," Hayes said.
Hayes said his organization gets 45 percent of its money from private sources and the remainder from government, including the city of Defiance and Defiance County.
He said he meets each month with the city officials and with the county commissioners, but deliberately avoided becoming a county employee and has made sure the CIC would be a private organization.
That allows him to maintain his independence, and to sign confidentiality agreements with private businesses, he said.