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Development peg doesn't fit in tourism slot

I have been attending the monthly meetings of Marion County Economic Development Council, partly to know what’s going on with the group and partly because I am interested in what’s happening.

When I was a member of the organization, it was a different time and there was a different attitude. It was OK that it was a social circle of sorts — visiting with representatives from other cities on a monthly basis. We helped each other with events by promoting them within our communities and offering advice.

The primary purposes of the group were to promote the Leadership Marion County program and to work together as a group.

Yes, there needed to be more, particularly for the larger cities within the group who have different issues and needs than the smaller cities.

Here we are, more than 15 years later, and I’m not sure if we have made the necessary strides. Yes, we have a county economic development professional but I don’t think the model for the development council is the best.

I think the name of the group is incorrect. Instead of “development” being in the title, the word “tourism” and/or “leadership” would be more appropriate.

I also think there should be a separate development advisory council for the county economic development director.

What do other counties do? What kinds of organizations do they have?

I did this research a few years ago and found a common theme. If there was a paid professional, he or she answered to the county economic development advisory board that included leaders and representatives from the cities within the county.

This type of organization got real work done by discussing real development issues and not focusing primarily on tourism.

I think there still is a need for a county tourism and leadership group but that group wouldn’t necessarily be an economic development group. Smaller communities have said that their only development is tourism. So for them, this group is extremely beneficial.

There continues to be discontent in the Marion County Economic Development Council with members wanting to control their destiny, as they should. Perhaps the real issue isn’t just returning the power of the council to its members but the need to have two kinds of organizations — one that focuses on tourism and one that focuses on economic development i.e. retention and recruitment of businesses.

In the development council, the members of the council would oversee county development business, assisting the development director in her endeavors, and giving direction for future development.

Development directors may come and go but having an organization of members who will be here after a director leaves makes sense.

— susan berg

Last modified May 13, 2010

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