March 2007 Editorial Winner

A Workable Plan
By Wayne Trotter, Tecumseh Countywide News

This notion of consolidating the efforts of several organizations in an attempt to improve the Shawnee area's capacity to effectively attract and retain industries, other businesses and jobs is a bad idea which good people keep bringing up. The board of directors of the Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce did the right thing when it rejected the most recent renewal last week. But now it's time ... no, way past time ... to do what the people who are pushing "consolidation" really want and get this area's search for greater prosperity back on track.
If that's ever going to happen, some basic truths must first be acknowledged and accepted:
TRUTH ONE: Shawnee and by extension the whole area has been operating a reduced recruitment effort since Bob Jones retired more than three years ago. Mr. Jones was never replaced and what used to be a two-person operation at the Shawnee Economic Development Foundation (SEDF) in effect became a one-person show. This is in no way critical of that individual but it is undeniable that the office, which was never too large, is now smaller than it used to be. How much can be expected?
TRUTH TWO: The three years since Mr. Jones retired have been among the most prosperous in history. The River of Opportunity continues to flow under our bridge only to be tapped by others upstream and downstream. How long that torrent will last is anybody's guess but there can't be much debate that continuing to wait and wish is a losing proposition for Shawnee and Pottawatomie County.
TRUTH THREE: It will take money to make this work and as far as we can tell the whole idea of "consolidation" is to get that money by pulling a little from here and a little from there. The problem is that those organizations subject to being "consolidated" all have different missions that may or may not directly concern business recruitment. Most are marginally funded now and can't afford to give up much income. The consolidation plan is a way of robbing Peter to hire Paul.
Like it or not, government is the only practical source of funding for this and even under consolidation, the money would still really be coming from government. Two years ago, Shawnee Mayor Chuck Mills and then-Commissioner David Hadley were so, so close to striking a really good deal with the county but it fell apart when the Shawnee City Commission (which can't control itself) started quibbling over who would control economic development. Doesn't that always happen around here? Chalk up something else we all have to get past.
The SEDF or a successor organization like it remains the most practical way to augment economic development. Although the city continues to channel $100,000 annually into the SEDF, the county still isn't putting any money into formal efforts at the moment. Although that probably would require a new trust to reflect the changing base, it makes a lot more sense to make economic development a countywide effort. If nothing else that would immensely broaden what could be offered a prospect. No matter where a new concern locates in this county, Shawnee will be a winner because Shawnee is the shopping, governmental and cultural center.
We believe the county and city need to launch a serious five-year economic development plan with a minimal commitment of $1,250,000 and an optimum commitment of $1,500,000 or more. Here's one way that money could be raised over the five years:
• Shawnee should increase its commitment from $100,000 to $125,000 a year. They might groan some down on Ninth Street but we assure you the city can afford it if it wants to. That accounts for half the $1,250,000.
• The county should kick in $300,000 up front out of its sales tax economic development fund. That plus whatever money might be salvaged from the SEDF would provide a cushion and ready money the new or reconstituted trust would need. Yes, the county has the money. As of Wednesday of this week, the balance in that county fund stood at $604,894.58. Tapping it for $300,000 would bring the total available for the five-year plan to $925,000 while still leaving the county more than $300,000. Under the law, that money must be used for economic development.
• The county could then commit an additional $65,000 a year out of the sales tax revenues that built the $604,894 surplus in the first place. That would amount to less than half of what the two percent is currently producing a year and bring the five-year-plan total to the minimal $1,250,000 with half the money coming from the county and half from the city. Plus, the county would still have its $300,000 plus possibly $75,000 or more a year to meet its other economic development needs.
• Try to get an additional $50,000 a year from private or tribal sources to bring the total to at least $1,500,000 over the five years.
Can it be done? Sure, if this area is serious about it. Otherwise, we can stand by and watch as the River of Opportunity keeps flowing right on by. Sooner or later, you can be sure, it will dry up, change course and bypass Shawnee and Pottawatomie County entirely.