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Marriage Encounters: Can This Man Bring Flagler Together for $1,100 an Hour?

| March 5, 2011

don upton of fairfield index

Don Upton says he's no shepherd: 'I'm an economic developer with attitude.' (FlaglerLive)

Don Upton has been going around Florida for 10 years telling counties, business and workforce development groups exactly what they want to hear: that they can put themselves on the economic map if only they got along and developed action plans. At $1,100 an hour (lodging and printing costs not included), it’s been an economic boon to Upton’s Tampa-based Fairfield Index Inc., a consulting firm. The windfall to local communities is less precise.

Upton, a lawyer by training, is in Flagler County this weekend putting on his gig for local governments, who’ve gathered at the ag extension service building near the county fairgrounds for a two-day “economic development summit.” The county hired him to help governments break through some fundamental obstacles to cohesive economic development: who’s to pay for it (if anyone), by what means, and under whose leadership. They thought they were getting a facilitator top that end. They didn’t.

“I’m actually not a facilitator,” Upton says. “I’m an economic developer with attitude.” He also exudes can-do optimism that defies borders or economic conditions particular to any region, though he says every action plan he writes is very particular to the localities that hire him. (“It’s going to take me 100 hours to put this together,” he said Saturday, looking at the material the participants of the meeting were generating through discussions. The entire contract, however, whether he puts in 10 or 100 subsequent hours, is for $22,000.) Whether that translates into a doable plan for Flagler County is to be determined.

Less mysterious is the kind of report the governments can expect once the meetings are over: rich in bullet points, graphs and bracing language that Upton puts in the action column, such as this from a 2009 report he submitted as an example, from a multi-county summit held in Lake City: “Milestone decisions: the team reached consensus on the draft Guiding Principles, with the assumption that more could be added.” The conclusions of the report also included many open-ended lines heard here, in Flagler: “What do we need to do to align with and gain support of Enterprise Florida?” “Now that the portfolio is coming into focus, we should explore what ‘readiness’ means for our sites, our service, and our community and regional partners.”

Upton’s background is closely tied to Enterprise Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce (he was its Chairman’s Award recipient in 2001, the year he launched his consulting firm), and local economic development agencies like it, such as Enterprise Flagler. That may be one of the reasons the county picked him: the county commission is leaning toward giving Enterprise Flagler—if perhaps a reformed Enterprise Flagler—the lead in economic development. But he’s also worked with start-ups, arts organizations and education agencies.

Over the past decade he’s appeared in almost identical settings as Flagler’s summit in numerous counties. He’s also spoken identical words.

Collier County, March 2009: “We have a working framework. We have working definitions. We have a desire to set metrics under the goals.”

Marion County, February 2009: “If you operate as a team, there’s no telling what you can accomplish.”

Polk County, August 2007: “Now we have the data to move forward. We’re going to make good decisions today for the next 50 years.”

Manatee, DeSoto, Charlotte, and Sarasota counties, all of whom hired him for a summit in May 2007: “It’s about the whole family, not about our counties.” (The “family” theme recurs like a verbal tic throughout Upton’s presentations.)

Tampa Bay summit, October 2002:  “People said, ‘We finally had a chance to interact with each other, and we liked what we saw. We would like to be in the room more often.’”

When developer Rich Smith, one of the people around the table at the Flagler summit, asked Upton on Friday to provide examples of other Florida counties Flagler could follow, Upton listed several of his past clients, including Polk, Charlotte, Manatee and Collier.

When the schedule was set for summit sessions in Flagler, this weekend’s two dates were picked, along with a third, on March 18, if that proves necessary. Upton was to be paid $14,900 for the first two days (33 percent of it upfront), and an additional $7,250 for a third day.

When Upton discussed the matter of scheduling in mid-February with the county administration, the third session looked more certain than not. “I have a high expectation that the third session would be more about taking action and implementing rather than revisiting the first sessions,” he wrote in a Feb. 11 email. “However, I also understand that we may identify missing data, new ideas and missing leaders, making an additional session of a different character.”

In a separate email the same day, he wrote: “Many of the issues the family of leaders face may feel original and daunting, but they are common to many markets and there are a number of constructive pathways to consider.” He had seemingly been briefed about Flagler’s political and leadership faultlines, and he addressed them. “To say the least, concerns about collaboration, leadership, an economic development agenda, and resources fall in our firm’s ‘bull’s eye.’”

As the clock approached noon on the second day of the summit, three of those issues—collaboration, leadership and resources, which define Flagler’s fault lines—had yet to be broached. Discussions until then were rich in setting agendas and priorities and wish lists. But that’s never been difficult for any of the agencies and businesses gathered around the tables.

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22 Responses for “Marriage Encounters: Can This Man Bring Flagler Together for $1,100 an Hour?”

  1. BW says:

    Here’s a thought . . . isn’t this what Enterprise Flagler should be doing? Do we really need to spend money for someone else?

  2. lawabidingcitizen says:


    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      Even scarier, with not an accomplishment to his name, it’s your money he’s spending.

      Are the days of venture capitalism gone?

  3. Skeptic says:

    After being personally & professionally involved in similar “planning activities” during my recent working
    career, I have but one comment: The final document will simply be useless “words in a row” that will neither facilitate a successful outcome nor put Flagler County on the econonomic map.

  4. Val Jaffee says:

    “Upton’s background is closely tied to Enterprise Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce (he was its Chairman’s Award recipient in 2001, the year he launched his consulting firm),’

    This is how government agencies squander money so that they can cry poverty to justify increasing taxes while lining the pockets of their cronies.

    The school district seems to be operating from the same playbook too!

  5. ForThePeople says:

    The county is downing 1000 per hour for this and the schools are firing teaches. How many teachers or school services could 1000 per hour pay for.

    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      Anyone want to explain this to the 80% who don’t vote/don’t understand any of this/just plain don’t give a damn?

      I believe it may be time to start a consulting business. Idiots are willing to throw money at you.

  6. Palm Coast Pioneers says:

    ‘…and Approach to a New City: Palm Coast…’ p. 149-150
    Even if there were a time tested concept as to how a city should be planned there still would be no true “cookie cutter” for building a city. Each city and each local environment is different. There are different local and state government regulations, varying demand rates, occupancy projections, demographic characteristics, different local building philosophies, variations in cash flow and profit generation which lead neigher to easy answers nor standardization. When to these are added the incisive aspects of site analysis, such as the physiographic and hydrogeological features, together with maintaining ecological integrity and taking into account in digenous historical settings, one knows unequivocally that the use of any “handy-dandy'” cooke cutter” would be chimerical at best.

    To us planning is a pragmatic combination of researches into what has worked successfully in other communities. ( Someone once said that cities are enormous laboratories of trial and error. This is true. The trick is to profit from previous errore.) Planning, too, is observing the progress of your own program, and, as needed, making corrective and essential on the spot reevaluations as it grows from development size to community size, and from community size to city size. Planning is reacting with intelligence to consumer demand typologies. It is taking advantage of related disciplines and findings in psychology and sociology. Add to this the assistance of those steeped in planning experience, who have faced the manifold

    Page 150
    headaches associated with this challenge and have developed solutions, people who have learned in the pressure cooker of practical problems.

    How have we proceeded? presently, having reveiwed submissions from a variety of leading planning firms, we selected Reynolds, Smith and Hills of Jacksonville, Florida. This was because they not only have the requisite direct experience to participate with us, but their knowledge of Florida and the dynamics of its populace is unique.

    Working closely with us in exhaustive studies of Palm Coast’s requirements, they have generated a program of planning guidelines. Here are a random few. As may be seen some relect material already discussed.

    1. provide choises for residents in a diversity of living environments. Example: offer recreational choices to residents, such as water sports, hunting, residential environments, such as homesites by the water, by the golf course, by the meadow, bucolic enclaves; single and multifamily housing; work and shopping choices; etc.

    2. Coordinate project programs for orderly development. Example: reserve sufficient land for future potential land uses, such as commercial, recreational, and industrial, to satisfy projected demand of the residents.

    3. Recognize interconnected transport systems as site organization dlements. Example: utilize existing and new transportation systems to direct the orderly growth of future land uses.

    4. Develop open space systems as site organization elements. Example: significant land features, drainageways, water bodies, other natural elements can be used as a major framework for development areas.

    5. Utilize terrain features as an aspect of physical form. Example: reflect the linear image of coastal dunes and intricate mosaic of marshland waterways in development patterns of specific areas.

    6. Program management of resources. Example: designate breeding areas for wildlife and indicate botanical and forest reserves.

    7. Formulate policies for implementing the comprehensive plan. Example: utilize land use controls, developoment stanards, and existing legal codes and agencies ( air and water pollution
    Page 151
    controls, etc.) to insure a quality environment for future populations.

    8. Identify values of social significance to the regional character. Example: research historic expeditions through the site and incorporate their routes into community open space and transportation corridors. Preserve and identify historic sites.

    9. Insure visual quality through the incorporation of design criteria. Example: limit the clearing of on site vegation to construction areas. Set up machinery for aesthetic approcal of structures.

    10. Develop and project the image of a totally viable community. Example: establish standards for the incorporation of religious, social, and service activities.

  7. elaygee says:

    This is where government spends money when Creepublicans and Tea Baggers are driving the bus. Regular people would have spent the money on services to taxpayers.

  8. Skeptic says:

    Reply to Palm Coast Pioneer says:

    Your post is exactly what I described as meaningless “words in a row”.

  9. kevin says:

    Elaygee says, “This is where government spends money when Creepublicans and Tea Baggers are driving the bus. Regular people would have spent the money on services to taxpayers.”

    Aren’t you the intellectual and mature individual. You prove your side is filled with hate and ignorance. Childish people like you who perpetuate ugly, viriolic comments using the word “tea-baggers” to describe peacefully protesting citizens against outrages involving our government are a good example of why talk from your end is false when you claim to want to work together. Honestly its your ignorant way or the highway isn’t it? I’ll die fighting the other side before I allow your side to command my life or that of my family given the level of intelligence you exhibit thus having at your resources to solve problems.

  10. marvin says:

    All had very impressive resumes, BUT I did not hear Mr. Rawls tell us his credentials. Tell me again why we should give our money to Enterprise Flagler. Question; what are Greg Rawls credentials, what degrees does he hold, what is his experience with economic development. Placing our future in the hands of Enterprise Flagler is like going to the one stop and hoping they find you a six figure job.


  11. palmcoaster says:

    Kevin , I recall in the past some positive comment from you in another issue before…but this time you are not civil. I totally agree with her on this economic summit costing the tax payers $1.100/hour for a supposedly “rocket scientist” that knows peanuts about our community and background, to just be invited here on the tax payers pockets to just “facilitate as referee” only in a display perfectly described by Mayor Netts as a “loosely goosey” discussions. I also agree here with Elaygee and if they are being sincere, I agree also with our City Manager Landon and Councilman Meeker and commissioner Mealy, that the cheered slogan for “one voice, one entity one BS sprinkling our hard earned taxes entity”, will not represent the wishes of Palm Coasters and Flagler Beach constituents. In fact will be just, the same old shame, the county trying to impose a tax sales increase or whatever tax to have us pay for the same “loosely goosey” aka “bla bla bla”, waste of an economic development agency to be created. Comes easy for the County Commission, County Chamber, Enterprise, Home Builders Association and School Board Member Conklin to be vocal in favor of the “One” slogan solution, as after all as usual are mostly the Palm Coasters taxes to foot the brunt of the bill. Comes easy for the county and company not only to waste a $1,100/hour rate in a rocket scientist, but probably as the “educated excuse” to start engineering our next tax raise, to pay for more.
    Mrs Conklin other than suggesting “the angst” that Mr. Landon supposedly generated with his realistic comments reflecting the concerns of Palm Coasters, should do much more benefit to the community requesting the records of the purchasing policies of the chief buyer of the Flagler Schools to justify the outsourcing taking place with local tax payers generated school contracts being awarded all the time, not only outside our cities, our county but also outside Florida. All done with just frivolous,baseless excuses. Those outsourced contracts go to create jobs and wealth elsewhere, when here we have 16% unemployment. This is when cliches and click’s come in to create laboral avoc and perpetuate it. Also describing Elayges’s comments inferring hatred and ignorance is totally distorted as is your description of the tea baggers parties as being peceful. Did you ever watched Congressman Gifford describing tea partiers vitriolic demonstrations in the corner of her Chandler office about the time of the Health Care vote? Look the ensuing criminal incident against her and those innocent bystanders. Unfortunatly fueled and vitriolic rethoric have fatal consequences.
    You don’t need to die over a difference of opinions, even if political (just use the ballot box, is safer for all) as we did not died with 8 years of the last Republican administration at the helm, unfortunatly over 4,439 of our brave soldiers did and we all got financially broke and many jobless and homeless. Kevin, the following charts (if you know how to read them) just prove that Elaygee is correct:

  12. kevin says:

    Get this Palmcoaster and those to whom it applies:

    My comment was specifically addressing the injecting of the term “tea-baggers” which all can agree is very insulting and a disgusting term. There is no argument that you can possibly make supporting that kind of ongoing ignorance. Everything else you said is rubbish that has nothing to do with the point. You completely missed the point that people like yourselves cannot be reasoned with and based on your level of conduct, cannot be trusted to have good ideas as well. Do you get that?

    Here is more immature rubbish from you: “Kevin, the following charts (if you know how to read them)” further supporting my point. If only you knew how small and increasingly ignorant you appear for making that needling, snide insult. You act more like a little punk in the basement of their parent’s home with their keyboard and computer than the adult you pretend to be in public when you keep reaching to describe others with repugnant descriptions like “tea-baggers.”

    I can see you now in your groups pretending to be one of sophistication and high ideals when in reality you slander others like you and “algae” do. (Yeah, that is on purpose) Are you too stupid to get that? Tea party people were protesting and rightfully so, but in all they did, nothing transcending to the level that you place them at deserving such insulting and abusive behavior as they received. It is a fact to unbiased, objective individuals that any level of discourse against those who walk in lock-step with this administration or progressive- liberal agendas, get personally attacked precisely as you proved through your comments and the instances you and algae use.

    What about the vicious and violent conduct regarding these recent union protests? The list of video is overwhelming! All the while not a peep from the locals and those nationally because it’s their brothers and sisters giving it out to the horrible conservatives who take food from children and eat their young. People like you sit quiet and probably giggling or cheering them on because they are part of your ilk sharing what I consider is a disgusting ideology based on unfairness and incivility as your doctrine. One instance from tea party member acting as you might, or your ilk, and you want to hang ‘em high as possible, right? You’re pathetic.

    Personally, I had absolutely no issues with the opinion on this article. It is insane for them to hire someone to do what they should be doing themselves. What are these municipal managers being paid for in the first place? If this we’re their business and the money came from their gross receipts, they would be working to avoid the transaction.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Kevin, looks actually that you didn’t know how to read these charts or while riding them found out the data shows an overwhelming reality. Your conviction prevents you from seeing the Stalin style Walker policies imposed in Wisconsin. You see hatred and public disobedience where is none. The only one speaking about “dying, death and hanging high” is you. Also when you refer to tea party people is okay right? If we do say, tea partiers, is for you a repugnant description.
    Better be aware that all these attacks from individuals like you, directed to workers their rights and the continuous undermining of our middle society may have some surprising results in 2012 as unfortunately all the economic policies enforced right now come form pressure exercised in the administration by tea partiers like you. The current results are the evidence. I must to wrote or showed something very obvious, for you to get so feisty. Probably the undeniable charts. We have to get informed. Here again if anyone cares:

  14. palmcoaster says:

    Today’s news proves once more that unions are here to stay and protect our workers rights. When the employer is not greedy, fair contracts protect the rights of both sides of the bargainning table.

  15. kevin says:


    I wish you were near so I could show you, point by point, your ignorance and inability to both read and retain what it was that I said. It looks to be something of an issue how you can’t get it. I hope you’re retired and not needing a certain level of brightness to get by. Its actually a little frustrating. I’m sure you’ll parrot the same comment about me.

    Your point, like your other comments shows you have completely missed the mark again by a profound distance. For fun, since I’ve spent so much time on you, I’ll close a second time by wishing you a good day because I’m almost feeling sorry for you.

    Have a good day!

  16. kevin says:

    What makes your points, and you, silly to me is that you rely on Pew’s subjective charts and the data used to construct them, as something as having scientific merit. For training purposes, you go dig up the data on your previous comments above and show the R-squared on two of your knuckle-headed comments above and their relationship to one being a poor statitician:o) Lets keep it a linear regression so to keep it simple o’ tay? Good lord man (woman).

  17. Barb says:

    Wish Flagler County would learn how to budget like it’s spending is forcing others to do.

    • Oneofthe10%whovoted says:

      Me too. But when only 10% vote or even try to figure out what’s going on, you get politicians for life and you are at their mercy.

      Better get used to it.

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