Letter to Editor:
In regard to the article reporting on Tama County budget hearings for Economic Development and Keith Sash’s letter that followed, as well as my presence at that meeting, I too have some points which I would like to clarify.
My history in the Tama-Toledo community as well as Tama County should speak for itself. Growth in all realms of community development has been important to both my professional and volunteer lives: Tama County Museum Director, Sesquicentennial committee, Toledo History Book committee member, Toledo Library Foundation member, Wieting Theatre Guild Bookkeeper and Foundation member as well as volunteer work for various community events. I believe in tourism and economic development but I also believe in moderation and realism. And the realistic economic picture for Tama County and Tama-Toledo (my home community) is the need for jobs through expansion of current businesses and industries.
I do not agree with the plan that the best use of the economic development resources is trying to lure
large corporations and industries to the area. Not that having one of those companies locate to our community wouldn’t be great but the probability of that happening is unlikely. New business does not always have to take precedence. The success and expansion of existing businesses is more important to our economy. Keeping businesses from closing should be a priority. And if we can’t keep current businesses open, that will not make a community look favorable to new businesses It’s a catch 22.
It was also quoted at the budget meeting that it costs $1.50 for each face-to-face meeting with a business owner in the County and that this is not the best use of those funds. As a local taxpayer and business person, I find that to be an inexpensive investment in our communities, made up of current taxpayers. In addition, wasn’t this office created to benefit tax-paying business owners in Tama County? If there has not been that initial contact with businesses by the Director, those owners do not know what assistance for which they are looking or what questions to ask. Yes, communication is a two-way street but when you do not know with whom you should be speaking, that conversation cannot begin.
There is no doubt that there is a need for Tourism in our county. And the volunteer effort behind the Tama County Economic Development Board has been the driving force behind the many successes within the communities of the County. That is obvious in the many offshoot committees from the ED board. Everyone that has been involved in fundraising efforts, board/committee development and community-level development should be commended for their time and efforts. Every community in the County can give examples of economic successes in business and tourism in the last few years, despite the financial downturns.
But when only 23% (quoted from the budget meeting) of the income in the county is from Tourism, where is the other 77% coming from? If that is the case, why does it seem the majority of the focus of the groupgoestowards tourism? Shouldn’t more attention be paid to businessdevelopment? Expansion and retention of current businesses would be a great place to begin this economic development.
Also, the latest Tama Countyunemployment rates saw a rise from 6.6% in Nov. 2010 to 7.7% in Dec. 2010. (Iowa’s average 6.3% in Dec. 2010.) That’s an alarming increase and should be addressed as a serious problem for the County. In addition, a 4 out of 5 year increase in tax revenue is great except when the most recently reported year has a significant decrease in revenue. A $25,370,034.00 decrease does not alarm the Development Board? We can rejoice in the past successes but if the most recent figures are a failure of sorts let’s not revert back to the successes for comfort. Collectively we should be looking toward the cause of the failure and try to correct it or, in the least, slow the progression. Granted many times there may not be a viable solution but it should be reviewed.
At that meeting, I did not hear anyone suggesting that the ED director start selling new business to buyers. In fact, I heard people requesting that the director do just what you stated in the job description – bring together businesses and resources in order that the businesses may expand (or at least continue their success).
We have many diverse groups within this county and those groups do not always share the same needs. However, a compromise in that each town/community be treated individually as to their own goals and necessities would be a great way to try to move out of this economic slump the State and County are just now starting to feel.
I too have heard many negative comments toward the focuses of Economic Development but not toward the need for the department. ED can be a vital contributor to our communities. What is being questioned is the director’s need to concentrate more time & effort in areas other than just tourism. Hopefully a compromise can be reached before more communities find this County resource an unnecessary venture.