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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 02:07 pm

Funds approved for economic development

But money isn’t everything

The Springfield City Council on Tuesday approved $250,000 for an economic development corporation, half the amount that Sangamon County, which is promoting the new group, has pushed for.

“Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is better than nothing,” said Brian McFadden, Sangamon County administrator. “It doesn’t come close to what the business community’s and county’s commitment has been. We need to have more conversations and plan accordingly.”

The county last year approved $500,000 for the Land of Lincoln Economic Development Corporation. The newly formed corporation is expected to have an annual budget of between $1.5 million and $2 million, with the private sector paying costs that aren’t covered by government.

Corporation board members each are expected to pay between $25,000 and $50,000 a year to help fund the group, and 15 business executives, plus two leaders from University of Illinois Springfield and Lincoln Land Community College, have signed on as board members. But critics, including the Faith Coalition for the Common Good and Mayor Jim Langfelder, say that the board is too white and too male. Just three of 27 board members would be women and just one would be black, according to a list of potential board members contained in a report released last fall by a county-hired consultant who recommended that an economic development corporation be created after years of lackluster economic development efforts.

Last week, Langfelder in an interview blasted the economic development corporation, saying that it was hatched behind closed doors and would cost too much. A plan to pay a chief executive officer $250,000 “is pretty excessive for Springfield,” Langfelder said.

“It seems like it’s all been happening behind the scenes instead of in front,” Langfelder said. McFadden dismissed such thinking, saying that the consultant interviewed dozens of business and civic leaders and that the report has been presented and explained in public settings. “He’s dead wrong,” McFadden said. “They did 150-some interviews. That’s a weird way to keep things under wraps.”

Langfelder last week also said that the board lacks diversity and appears to be the same group of people who have long been involved with economic development.

“You’re just moving pieces around – that’s what it looks like to me,” Langfelder said. “If you dive into the (October) report, we’ve been doing the same things for decades. This is, almost, going down the same path.”
The Faith Coalition for the Common Good wants to eliminate the requirement that board members pay to help fund the corporation so that minorities stand a better chance to become board members. The coalition also wants the corporation to be subject to the state Open Meetings Act and the state Freedom of Information Act.

“Everyone agrees there needs to be more diversity,” McFadden said. But waiving the requirement that board members pay as much as $50,000 to fund the corporation isn’t favored by the group’s creators, he said. The corporation, he said, is tasked solely with attracting and retaining jobs and is not a social service agency.

“I know they like to call it pay-to-play, but I’d say that’s a mischaracterization,” McFadden said. “The county is a member of the faith coalition. We have to pay $1,000 to be a member of the faith coalition. If this (the corporation) is pay to play, then that’s pay to play.” While increasing diversity is a goal, McFadden said he’s concerned about a “quota situation.” The corporation, he said, isn’t intended to fix roads or solve racial injustices, he said.

The state’s attorney’s office is reviewing open-government matters, McFadden said, but a preliminary read is that the corporation wouldn’t be bound by the same sets of rules that apply to government.

“A lot of the value of the economic development corporation is they can do things in a confidential manner,” McFadden said. “They can do things very quickly. That’s a part of the value of having an economic development corporation.”

Under the city budget that passed on Tuesday, the city would still have an office of planning and economic development, with the economic development director being paid via contract as opposed to being put on the city payroll. During Tuesday’s debate on the budget, Langfelder said that the city still needs an economic development arm that would “complement” the work of the county-backed economic development corporation.

McFadden said he’s concerned that the corporation and the city could end up working at cross purposes if both promote economic development. Businesses contemplating expansion, he said, want one point of contact. A lack of cohesion in economic development efforts was an issue brought up by the consultant last fall.

“I don’t know what that (a separate city economic development department) means,” said McFadden, who acknowledged that the county lobbied aldermen hard to win money for the corporation. “You can argue that’s worse than the situation we’ve got now. … It appears there’s still a huge question mark on the part of the mayor as far as the economic development corporation.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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