In our business deadlines are something you beat, and if you can't you don't survive.
Early this year, a broad-based coalition of business leaders from across the county started a conversation about the need for a cohesive approach to economic development.
Something about the turning of the new year, combined with the dismal employment conditions, must have woken people up and caused them to say, "Hey, we can do something about this."
The efforts blossomed and eventually came together with a few agreed-upon goals:
n Get everyone who involved in development communicating regularly;
n Force them to work in one direction; and
n Do it now!
Members of the Erie County Chamber of Commerce agreed to do much of the heavy lifting for the effort -- and ran head-on into the entrenched leadership of Greater Erie Marketing, the public-private agency currently responsible for economic development. GEM still hadn't (and maybe still hasn't) figured out that most of its members were dissatisfied and wanted something more, better from them.
After months of hammering out the details, the coalition's plan was ready, and the GEM executive board grudgingly accepted it. Following the road map the group offered, GEM's executive board voted to overhaul itself and form a stronger agency that could represent the entire county. The board set a deadline of Sept. 1 to bring the new plan to its board of trustees for a vote.
Two weeks before that deadline county commissioner Tom Ferrell suddenly had his own idea for reforming GEM: Reinvigorating the county's Community Improvement Corp. The CIC has existed since 1973 and has done nothing of note. Ferrell contended the state had recently granted new powers to CICs and this would be a boon to GEM in doing its work. Thing is, the state made those changes two years ago. Apparently it takes a couple years for really important things to make it onto our county's radar-screen -- which may explain why we are enjoying seven percent unemployment. Oh, the CIC as it exists today is controlled by the county commissioners; did we mention that part earlier?
GEM's leadership, desperate perhaps to avoid the changes it had reluctantly agreed to execute, decided to stop everything and re-consider its options. It further asked the county to provide them a proposal to create a CIC in time to present it to the membership Tuesday.
We believe the CIC concept has merit, but believe the changes GEM and the broad-based coalition negotiated are more important.
Right now is the time to expand the role of economic development in Erie County and embrace the new, willing leadership that has stepped up to help.
In the newspaper business we take deadlines seriously. If you miss the first deadline, you better not miss the second. We ask the GEM Board of Trustees to take them as seriously and enact these changes Tuesday morning when you meet.
Every day you dally means more lost jobs in Erie County.