Minden Press-Herald

Oct 02nd

Plan gaining council support

20131217 174401 E Union St

Hopes are high for partnerships as Minden's economic plan approaches its next milestone - gaining city council support.

A second workshop held Tuesday evening gave council members an additional opportunity to continue the discussion of the plan in hopes of receiving their support.

"The Northwest Louisiana Economic Partnership, which covers about 14 parishes in the area, recently hired a consultant to do what has already been done here," Minden Mayor Tommy Davis said. "We have been able to do this with state funding - something that would have cost thousands of dollars. In addition to savings, a lot of volunteer and dedicated employee work has gone into this proposal. Now, the city needs the council to say they will support the plan."

While no action was taken during the workshop, Davis said if council members choose to adopt a resolution supporting the plan, it does not mean they are signing a blank check.

The annual cost of economic development is estimated at $200,000 and was projected by David Dodd, the consultant who guided Minden as a plan to become a "Louisiana Development Ready Community" (LDRC).

"In order for us to complete the process and earn the distinction of being a LDRC community, the council needs to adopt a resolution supporting the plan," Davis said.

Of the $200,000, $100,000 is expected to be spent on marketing and branding Minden, $50,000 on the salary of a dedicated economic developer and $50,000 on travel and related expenses.

Davis, council members, business leaders and LDRC committee persons hope to find funding through partnerships for something they believe is vital to the area's growth.

"In the past SWID (South Webster Industrial Park), the city and the chamber all pitched in to pay for an economic developer," Davis said. "The result of the arrangement was unsuccessful for various reasons."

Discussion among the group noted pitfalls in the previous arrangement. The position had no direct supervisor, had multiple directives from multiple entities and did not have "the right person."

"In the past the city has pumped in big bucks into the position and we didn't get our money's worth," said local businessman and chamber supporter Terry Gardner. "They need to be strictly an economic developer and work to bring industry in, while partnering with the chamber who should work to retain our local businesses. In other words, that needs to be their only job."

Currently, Pattie Odom is serving as Minden's economic developer.

"This was added to my responsibilities after the last economic developer didn't work out," she explained. "But I can't keep my responsibilities with Main Street and downtown going full steam, while giving my all to economic development. One area suffers when I give attention to the other. We must have another dedicated person."

Davis suggested that while the plan would take five years to complete, the process should begin soon.

"Economic development takes time," he said. "But that doesn't mean we should begin implementing a plan quickly."

Councilman Benny Gray said while he knows the plan highlights things that are needed, financial challenges will be faced in implementation.

"It is difficult because we are also watching budget and cutting corners," he said. "We need it but it's our job as councilpersons to watch budget."
Davis agreed with Gray.

"David Dodd's statement at the end of the proposal was something that really sticks in my mind," Davis said. "He said, 'business invest in communities that invest in themselves.'"

However, Gardner and Councilperson and businessman Mike Toland agreed that local business would see the importance of investing in economic development.

"If we do a good job of putting this plan together, I know that business will support and contribute to it," Toland said. "Our company, like many right now, is strapped but I'll invest in a solid plan."

Property investor and manager Irene Desadier, who served on the LDRC committee, suggested taking out loans to pay for economic development, while interest rates are low.

Michael Fluhr, city clerk and treasurer, said the city's financial situation will have a large impact on what the entity can contribute.

"I applaud comments from Mr. Gardner and Mr. Toland about businesses supporting the plan because I believe businesses will see benefits," Fluhr said. "It is important to note the plan without money is not worth the paper it is printed on."

Fluhr said economic impact is important to the city's revenue, which has severely fallen and will be a challenge to overcome.

"The city will have to make changes to its revenue," he said. "The city property tax revenue is $430,000 - that is it.

"Sales tax is down nine percent and across-the-board revenue is going down. We just raised sewer rates, but we are still very low on our rates," Fluhr continued. "We sequestered 11 percent across the board this year ... The city budget is down to wire."

Davis acknowledged Fluhr's concern and said industry cannot only provide jobs, but also income and said, "It seems the best time to spend investment money is when you don't have it."

An agenda item to support the proposal may appear in the January city council meeting. Davis reminded council members that a vote of support does not mean they are approving any specific item in the plan or an accompanying price tag.






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