Nearly 100 residents attended a recent public forum on economic development. Last September, the commissioners made a similar member-only presentation to a private company. The Democratic Club believes that since economic development impacts everyone in the county, the entire community should be involved in such discussions. That is why the club organized this public forum, so everyone could get information on what the commissioners are doing for economic development.
Commissioner Edwards acknowledged in his opening remarks how unusual it is for Republicans and Democrats to discuss anything in such a non-partisan way. The commissioners and community should be applauded for the constructive way they participated in the discussion.
Commissioner Hinebaugh, however, indicated he does not want too much citizen participation in developing an economic plan for the county. Given the level of interest and participation by those in attendance, I disagree. We have experience with 10 or 12 people sitting behind closed doors to develop an economic strategy for the county. It has not worked out well, according to the information presented by the commissioners.
Most of the commissioners’ presentation documented several challenges the county faces in terms of economic development — e.g., a continued decline in our population over the last four years, labor participation rates stayed low, wages stayed low while jobs go unfilled. No evidence was presented to suggest they made any progress toward the goals they set for themselves the first month of their tenure to increase the county’s population to help stabilize schools, attract businesses and families, and grow the tax base.
I was surprised that the commissioners did not talk about any major achievements and did not present a vision going forward. It might not be surprising if one remembers that the first two-thirds of their tenure was spent pushing racking as the solution to all the county’s economic problems. The citizens did not buy that strategy and neither did the state legislature. It seems the commissioners have no Plan B.
According to information presented, only 1.9 percent of the county’s budget goes toward economic development; more than half of that amount goes to the Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism at the lake. So there is not really a lack of financial resources, as claimed in their presentation — it is how they choose to allocate existing resources that is important.
Many left the forum concerned about the economic future of the county. The commissioners did not reveal any sort of vision on how to tackle the challenges they face, and seemed willing to continue to exclude citizens from discussions about economic development which impacts their daily lives.