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Summit-Scaling: Enterprise Flagler, Rising Again, Wants $6.5 Million Over 3 Years

| May 12, 2011

big tom hanks ad ready economic development

Another pad-ready idea.

There’s a scene toward the end of “Big,” the Tom Hanks movie about a 13-year-old boy stuck in an adult’s body, where Josh Baskins, Hanks’ character—by then a joyfully creative CEO—presents an idea for a new toy at a business meeting. The computerized, interactive thing does wonders. Josh is convinced it’ll sell zillions. But it’s also astronomically expensive. Josh has no concept of costs. He’s just a good-hearted ideas boy. That’s when the disconnect hits his colleagues: Josh may not quite be the man he was pretending to be.

A similar disconnect is sharpening between Flagler County’s business community—a whole bunch of well-meaning Josh Baskins—and at least some government officials. The business types want new tax dollars “invested” in economic development. They’re convinced it’ll generate tons of jobs. But it’s other people’s money they’d be playing with, not their own. Government types are telling them they have no concept of the political cost when it comes to that sort of speculation, though some government officials, particularly in Flagler County, are being seduced by the speculation.

Those forces are coming to a head Friday.

Enterprise Flagler, the county’s public-private partnership, is going to be asking for more money from taxpayers. Lots of it. Palm Coast and Flagler Beach will balk. And an old, unresolved conflict will flare again, though only toward the very end of this latest of summit: That’s the bottom line at Friday’s county-wide economic-development meeting, the fifth since January.

Yes, they’re doing it again. At 8 a.m. Friday morning, elected officials from the county and every city, along with business executives and civic leaders, are meeting for what could be yet another day-long session, though this time Don Upton, the “facilitator” the county hired for the three previous sessions, at more than $7,000 a day, agreed to forgo his fee. And many participants at previous meetings aren’t showing up. Some will be playing golf. Some will be working. Some will have other excuses, real or invented.

The first four summits, held between January and March, achieved little other than the development of five general economic development “strategies” most of the assembled could agree on, and the scheduling of more meetings. Committee meetings and committee reports were produced along the way, consuming untold man-hours. The hope is that Friday’s summit will finally settle the hard questions the group has been avoiding all along: how to pay for what’s being proposed, who would pay it, and who would administer it.

The summits were originally designed to get the various governments and business community to agree on a political and financial strategy for economic development. There never was any such agreement. Palm Coast and Flagler Beach aren’t interested in any new tax for economic development. Bunnell is for it, and county commissioners aren’t sure what they’re for. Failing agreement on that score, the summiteers sank their energies in smaller-bore stuff they could agree on: those five strategies that are, in fact, closer to optimistic tactics than strategies: providing an entrepreneurial environment, linking talent effectively, providing “exceptional” customer service, “maximizing regionalism”. The fifth element, the closest to a strategy, is a retread of the same element Enterprise Flagler and others have been pushing for years: targeting and recruiting particular industries to broaden Flagler County’s commercial and industrial tax base.

One thing the committee meetings did achieve: they put a price tag on each of the five tactics and strategies. Most of those price tags are modest. A couple are not at all.

The committee that worked on target industries is proposing a whopping $6.5 million budget over three years, including $1.15 million a year in “community enticements” such as tax breaks, capital dollars—that is, government underwriting private industry development—and workforce training, and $331,000 a year in marketing. What generated those numbers and what justifies them isn’t clear. But they’re the numbers that will be presented Friday, along with another set of numbers that appear drawn from thin air: a speculative “return on investment” of $174 million over three years, “more thereafter,” according to the committee’s taskforce report.

The goal, according to that report, is to have several development-ready and construction-ready sites around the county and the cities (what’s been termed “shovel-ready” and “pad-ready” sites) that could quickly be turned over to prospective industry, and therefore employers, with a goal of developing 900 primary jobs and 1,100 secondary jobs within three years.

Other committees provided similar break-downs and speculative “return on investment” projections. The numbers don’t necessarily add up, but the total cost of the summiteers’ plan, over three years (what they call “financial investment,” and what taxpayers call taxpayer dollars), is $7.1 million. Jobs created over three years? 2,480. Economic benefit? $188 million. Other than what would be charged taxpayers, the numbers are entirely speculative.

If this is beginning to sound familiar, that’s because it is: it’s essentially the framework of Enterprise Flagler’s tax-and-build plan (that is, government construction of business sites as bait for new industry) it attempted to take to voters last year. The public response was so derisive that Enterprise Flagler pulled the proposal before it made it to the ballot box. The “target industry” strategy at this economic summit is a repeat of that attempt. Instead of angling for a property tax increase, Enterprise Flagler is pushing a half-cent sales tax increase.

Several members of the Enterprise Flagler board of directors, meeting for several hours today (May 12), agreed that at the end of Friday’s meeting, David Ottati, president of Enterprise Flagler—and Florida Hospital Flagler’s CEO—would lead the charge to stop talking and get something done. That something would be to make Enterprise Flagler the driving engine of the overall economic development effort. That, too, would be a retread of last year’s effort.

Thursday’s meeting got occasionally, and revealingly, testy: Enterprise Flagler is made up of elected representatives from each of Flagler’s governments, along with top government administrators and managers, and several private-sector executives, who serve as volunteers. The operation is mostly paid for with tax dollars, with Palm Coast and the county footing most of the bill (about $90,000 each). There’s a telling divide between the government representatives and the business representatives. That divide has been more pronounced as the business sector has been aching for activity while the government sector has been battered by falling revenue and pressure to raise taxes, with potentially dire results at the polls.

That divide unraveled at the meeting today as members on the business side harped on the need for action by governments to get moving—that is, to do what’s necessary to raise taxes and generate the revenue for “economic development.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” an elected representative retorted, when it’s the elected representatives who have to do the political heavy lifting. “Well, that’s your job,” came the reply from the business end.

Two of Enterprise Flagler’s most vocal members—Bob DeVore, a developer, and Bruce Page, a banker—talked a good game of getting something done only to concede that they wouldn’t be at Friday’s meeting, thus joining a long list of no-shows. Among them Frank Meeker, who’s been the loudest voice for economic development on the Palm Coast City Council. He’s going to a GOP political function. (Calling it a function may be too generous: a local Republican calls it a boxing match for control of Flagler County’s GOP.) Colleen Conklin, who resorted to inspirational quotes and a long motivational speech at the last meeting, is recovering from ankle surgery. County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin is spending time with family in Utah. The lawyer Mike Chiumento, who led the entrepreneurial committees, was also to be absent.

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12 Responses for “Summit-Scaling: Enterprise Flagler, Rising Again, Wants $6.5 Million Over 3 Years”

  1. Liana G says:

    Why does the gov’t need to raise taxes to generate economic development. If buinesses are so convinced that there’s money to be made then they should be making the investment. One would think the large pool of cheap labour would be enough to attract them. I am sick and tired of the government’s loud rethoric that Wall Street is ‘too big to fail’ while silently acknowledging that Main Street is ‘to little for us to care’. Sorry, I don’t want my tax dollars going towards more corporate welfare. These politicians have a right to be worried if they want to be re-elected.

  2. Joe says:

    This county is such a joke, I am embarressed to live here anymore.

  3. Kendall says:

    This group is a waste of money, time and oxygen.

  4. tulip says:

    While I don’t think much will be accomplished at this time, I do give them a lot of credit for getting together and trying to find solutions. Ideas that might not work today, may work in the future and future Flagler leaders may be able to draw on some of the info and ideas that have been entered into these summits.

    At least they aren’t sitting back doing nothing.

  5. Jim Guines says:

    I can see how this can all be done within the time of ten years with the next phase of 1/2 penny sales tax. If the county and the cities go for 1/2 penny and the school system go for 1/2 penny there would be enough resources avaiable for every group to get a lot of things done. It would require a level of cooperation and planning that we have never had before, but this may be the last time that this chance may be open to get out of this mess. That may provide an incentive for everyone to work together.

  6. lawabidingcitizen says:

    By Jove, I think you may be close to “getting” it!

    The budget process this summer will bring elected officials a very large dose of reality, so much so that perhaps even our elected officials will start “getting” it. They’ve already killed the golden goose and there isn’t another anywhere on the horizon.

    The N-J this morning quoted Flagler Beach Commissioner John Feind as saying, The commission should also consider increasing the special events fee to bring it “more in line with reality, … At one point, the fees were not that important, maybe because there was money around and now there’s not the money around.

    What an odd statement. We’ve been told all along that special events cost taxpayers NOTHING as all costs are borne by the merchants. Which would be worse, I wonder? That elected officials don’t know who’s paying for what or that they were mis-representing the facts? Hmmmm. That’s a tough one.

  7. Skeptic says:

    Let us not forget that Bob DeVore was also a vocal spokesperson for Centex (does anyone remember the Centex fiasco ?) when the Palm Harbor Resort development was started. How did that work out for us ?

  8. Bob Alex, Palm Coast says:

    Once again a summit is being held without a core of people who have experience and/or knowledge of the
    broad spectrum of professionalism required to get the job done. They talk about target marketing, and don’t know how to do it. Their plan (if that is what one would like to call it) does not have the foundation or details in place to accomplish their misdirected goals. From experience in this area of development, I suggest that a “professional” Director of Economic Development” be hired to direct this effort. This probably would be more cost effective than having high priced consultants conducting cheerleading sessions. Further, a board comprised of citizens should be put in place, who do not have ties to developers, realtors, or others who have personal or professional agendas. Open meetings should be part of the process, allowing the citizens in our county to be part of the process, and, have the ability to voice their opinions, and suggestions. Until this time, those citizens who attended these meetings were
    referred to as the “gallery”, and were not permitted to speak.

  9. kevin says:

    I like what Liana G said-not that I pay taxes where you are. Good comment.

  10. Joe says:

    They could double taxes and still cry poor mouth!!! Not one of these pretenders while running for office said to elect me so I can raise taxes and hire people to show me how to do my job. What happened to all of these politicians that preached fiscal responsability and job growth while running for these offices???

  11. Jojo says:

    I like Bob Alex’s ideas foremost, a Director of Economic Development, that would be cost effective rather than pay some consultant an exorbitant fee every time he stands up to speak. The Board I am a lot more leery of. Is it going to be comprised of the old guard, same rubbing elbows, bedroom community citizens, and hungry developers?

  12. palmcoaster says:

    Who else do we have in this taxpayers revenue hungry Enterprise F. benefiting committee and their cheerleaders. No one else than Bob deVore of Lowe developer and rightfully recalled by Skeptic here #1 promoter of the bill of lies sold to Palmcoasters regarding the approval for the demolition and rebuilding of the never to be Palm Harbor Resort. They even ceremoniously corralled (cracker style) as many of us as they could lure, in the Flagler Auditorium and handed us the famous free shirts with the rendition of what never materialized. Was a site to see, Flagler Chamber of “outsourcing” Vip’s and all the ones they rub elbows with mentioned above today and our candid elected ones for the big charade. The result was the loss of 300 hotel jobs, the loss of our beloved community gathering gorgeous resort and marina by the intracoastal and the Palm Harbor Golf course (destroyed by Centex), repairs after we, surrounding home owners, fought it to the teeth. We were just ready for picket line at the gate, for the sale of the current upscale condos they built instead and then… they gave the course to the city. All for the sake of Economic Development, not to benefit the taxpayers, just the developers and their approving cronies!
    My suggestion as follows: if these VIP’s in collusion to get our taxes raised want funding for Enterprise; deVore get Lowe, Page get your Intracoastal Bank and Doug Baxter get your Flagler of outsourcing Chamber to come up with whatever $$$ Rowlins and Otatti want for their playground and ….leave us, taxpayers $$$ out of it! If our elected ones realize that creating the jobs that we lost will improve our local economy as I believe, then you need to go and evaluate the purchasing records of your buyers and stop them from outsourcing our government contracts. Government contracts assigned to local businesses are vital, now that construction is non existent. Happy to see that Flagler Cty chief buyer
    outsource Witherton no more, good riddance…maybe someone got the magnifying glass… so he can go and outsource Henderdon County contracts now if hired there..
    Mr. Alex is too much of a newcomer to suggest a new director position to bring businesses maybe at 60,000 or 70,000 usual pay a year? Instead with that plus 90,000 wasted with the Enterprise elite boys, start a campaign to reward any soul no matter his her occupation in this county and cities to invite a small business to relocate here and create jobs. Once the goal achieved and the new hires are in their payroll only then the 1,000 per employee reward kicks in, not before! Imagine 160,000/year could mean 160,000 new jobs and the added revenue for our government budgets. No waste in costly rocket scientist/consultants, no raising taxes. Small businesses pay their own way here, just go and ask the 9,000 or so in this county. Also what you call “the request of the businesses in this county, alias its Chamber” is when all here need a reality check. Out of 9,000 businesses combined in this county and its cities maybe 800 to 1,000 at most, are Chamber Members and dwindling due to lack of support for what they receive for about $275 membership cost a year. Sometimes receiving even unfair competition from them plus needless to say, outsourcing. How can we be represented by this Chamber when we are 9 and theirs is 1? I agree for one with Alex regarding the same old guard in control of this expensive fiasco organized by the County Commission. What were you all thinking, specially Mr. Peterson when at least your resume shows experience in business in the past? What happens Revels, Hanns and yourself gave in to; Coffey, Chamber and Enterprise big honchos? Not what we elected you for….This misrepresentation when it comes to grab control of one of the greatest generated wealth’s in the world hence our American tax contribution, needs to end. A country of 375 million totally controlled by a clicky and wealthy minority of less than 1%. This is the reason of our current pathetic finances and high unemployment figures.

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