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For Jobless Flagler, 3 Economic Development Plans But Little Direction or Unity

| January 4, 2011

Still looking for direction. (© FlaglerLive)

There’s a dearth of jobs in Flagler County, especially higher-paying jobs for the third of the county’s population of working age. But there’s no dearth of economic development plans.

Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon’s staff wrote one. Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey’s staff wrote one. County Commissioner Milissa Holland wrote one. Enterprise Flagler, the mostly tax-funded economic development partnership with private industry, thinks it can write one. And they’re all headed toward a meeting of the plans at a joint government summit on Jan. 31—the summit formerly scheduled for December and mysteriously cancelled when some participants’ schedules allegedly could not be accommodated (though the meeting had been set for months).

On Wednesday, the County Commission will discuss its own two plans in what should provide for good theater, given that, while Coffey and Holland go out of their way to say that their two plans are not in competition, the plans themselves make no bones about a fundamental difference. Holland would create a new economic development structure led by the county. Coffey would expand the role of Enterprise Flagler. Holland isn’t fond of Enterprise Flagler: the agency has a skimpy track record and reacts to transparency mostly like Dracula to sunshine. Also, Coffey and Holland aren’t best friends. She tried to fire him last year, and has since frequently clashed with him, several times over economic development.

Coffey does his sniping more subtly. In his economic development plan, he used the Tourist Development Council’s half-million dollar marketing budget as an example of how Enterprise Flagler should be better funded, if it were to market the county’s job-readiness. The Tourist Development Council, of course, is headed by Holland, and the council’s vastly increased marketing budget is the result of Holland’s single-biggest achievement this year on that council—raising the county’s bed tax from 3 to 4 percent. On the other hand, the one empirical measure of the council’s bigger focus on marketing in the last two years—hotel occupancy—is significantly up despite the economic downturn, while the one empirical measure of Enterprise Flagler’s ability to accomplish anything of note—the tax-and-build referendum it crafted and championed last year—managed to crash and burn before take-off.

Its focus on Enterprise Flagler aside, Coffey’s plan overall is more pep talk and diagnosis of what Flagler lacks than an actual plan: in other words, it’s the sort of thing a county executive is supposed to do, leaving the policy framework to the elected. It lists a framework of how to proceed, including “keep it simple” (a virtue none of the plans can boast of, including Coffey’s), “expect some failures,” “the public sector has a role in times like these,” and other generalities. Insights are few (it’s not news that Flagler County, jokes on Letterman or errors in Fortune magazine aside, has little visibility on the national stage, or that the county lacks an industrial building, or that it should target “growth industries” for jobs. What is surprising in the Coffey plan is the renewed focus on hiring “additional professional staff” to make a plan work—and, of course, to do so through Enterprise Flagler. Many other proposals tinker with incentive programs, reward recruiters and cut taxes (points seemingly cribbed from Palm Coast’s plan. See below.)

Holland’s plan would create a new economic development council entirely—a so-called Partner Council—led by the county, and modeled after the Tourist Development Council, which she chairs. The TDC’s members include a representative from each of the cities in the county and several representatives from the private tourism and leisure industry. They have a budget of more than $1 million, more than half of it devoted to marketing the county, and much of it devoted to underwriting events or capital projects that would enhance the county’s appeal to tourists. They make their recommendations to the county commission, which has the final say. It’s worked  effectively and transparently under Holland’s at-times iron-fisted leadership. But the council has its own funding source: the 4 percent “bed tax.” An economic development council would have to have its own source of money at a time when the county is claiming beggar status.

The Holland plan in its details is a lot more intricate than that: simplicity, again, is not its virtue, and it has something of the top-down approach that literally draws a pyramid of involvement: “champions” at the top, followed by “strategic partners,” “investors” and “supporters,” and then those with “no role.” The plan outlines several strategies that, on paper, would draw no objections—“create green jobs and develop local expertise in sustainable development through public sector investments and programs”—but the how of those strategies isn’t as clear as the what, and some suggestions riffle with red flags: “Establish a countywide policy that allows publicly owned facilities to be used in business development efforts” raises the prospect of a government building becoming the annex of private industry, for whatever purposes, under the guise of “business development.” Some of the recommendations—“build our reputation as a premier location for design expertise,” “develop a consortium model that promotes Flagler County as a location for applied and integrated sustainable concepts—are so mired in lingo as to be incomprehensible, though that, too, is not uncommon in government and business documents.

What none of the plans has worked out is who would lead and how, though two of them (Holland’s and Coffey’s) put a premium on working jointly. No plan will succeed, they say, without cooperation and buy-in. Especially from Palm Coast.

But Palm Coast’s plan is only concerned with Palm Coast: it barely acknowledges other entities.

Under the city plan’s “additional sources of input,” the city’s own citizen survey, its own comprehensive plan update and something called “Enterprise Flagler Goal Setting Exercise” were included, but no acknowledgment of the existence of a county or other cities. The primary focus of the plan isn’t so much job growth as revitalization of existing, and ageing, neighborhoods, more homeownership, and more beautification. The city wants to “simplify and streamline development processes,” create a “business assistance center” and simplify other byways of the city’s bureaucratic process that businesses must go through before seeing the light of day. Ecotourism and special events get special attention, but not in much detail. Under job creation, the plan proposes to give businesses tax breaks, forgive or delay impact fees (the one-time fee developers pay when they put up a house or a commercial structure; those fees pay for schools, parks, transportation.) In other words, it’s the 2000s all over again, minus the taxes.

Wednesday’s workshop of the county commission will be a warm-up for the Jan. 31 meeting. It’ll also provide an indication of whether the county is itself prepared to unify under one plan, whatever that may be, and if so, whether it would be willing to wrestle with the larger question: who, in the end, would lead economic development in the county as a whole, Palm Coast included? Until that question is answered, no plan is likely to prevail with the sort of success it imagines for itself.

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11 Responses for “For Jobless Flagler, 3 Economic Development Plans But Little Direction or Unity”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Haven’t they done enough damage with their interferring? Back off, lower taxes and keep onerous regulations to a minimum and let the private sector take off. The government at any level can do nothing but slow things down as is aptly demonstrated by the gazillions being spent by Obama et al. to “stimulate” the economy.

  2. Dorothea says:

    Lawabiding Citizen, that’s exactly what we did during the Bush administration. We removed all the ” onerous regulations ” and look where it got us. It got us the biggest economic downturn since 1929, thus forcing the government to spend “gazillions” to repair the damage and stimulate the economy.

  3. Well... says:

    The Gramm-Leach-Bliley act, which reformed the Glass-Steagall act (1933), is what perpetuated this financial mess. However, the real issue is uneducated people falling into the brainwashing trap of media outlets. People need to do their own research. Any pundit, conservative or liberal, will coat the facts with a little slice of partisanship. Study economics, study history, study financial systems and educate yourself as to why our country needs a simulative kick in the pants.

  4. Gervais says:

    Blah Blah Blah! REPUBLICANS have there chance back at ruining the country for another decade or so, history will repeat itself once again.

  5. Robbie says:

    Why is the City of Palm Coast funding Enterprise Flagler?

    Council Slams Enterprise Flagler’s Camouflage, Casting Doubt on “Development” Tax

    FlaglerLive | August 10, 2010

    $93,500 is more than enough money for the city to hire its own economic developer. That is if the person is not overpaid.

    It would appear that Enterprise Flagle rhas friends within the City of Palm Coast government.


    The beginning of the end began at Palm Coast Data today !
    massive company wide layoff began and will continue…what kind of a future is
    there for all of these folks living in Palm Coast…there are no jobs…period!
    shame on all of the boards & committees and plans to date…what are any of them doing to get
    real business to move to this area from up north….not just talk but actually going up north and
    presenting Palm Coast to the business community…prospecting and selling us…it’s not easy …it’s real work but it has to be done the old fashion way!

  7. DWFerg says:

    Having sat through the nearly 3 and a half hour “workshop” on Wed. my conclusions are :
    The old guard wants to plow ahead with the same old framework for Econ. Dev’l..(Revels and Hanns) The “change agent”, Ms Holland seems to have a more creative approach but faces resistance from the board. Nate(last name ?) wants it to be a unified process and Peterson is on the fence politically as to which side to align. Clearly, changes MUST be made to progress the county’s approach. Hosting major, national site selectors/coordinators should be a Chamber function with perhaps some Governmental assistance9Mayor, Council, City Mgr.)-Enterprise Flagler ‘s historic results appear poor in generating real economic development. The former mecca for “Retirees” seeking affordable/ accessible golf, fishing and exercise that was the Palm Coast “Brand”- is no longer sustaining Growth ! Industrial / Commercial expansion to alleviate residential property tax burdens is obvious. Whether to align with neihboring counties or not(St John’s , Duval vs our southerly onesVolusia , Orlando) seems moot. Until the focus is on attracting people, jobs and investment are better coordinated, meetings like todays will continue ad infinitum !

  8. Nick says:

    I’ve been unemployed now for a while and have look for jobs all over the county; everything from gas station attendant to senior level positions. I have a Bachelors Degree, a good work history, and a military background. WHERE ARE THE JOBS…?

    All I see around Palm Coast and other parts of the county are construction projects. This would be great if we can companies to fill these building once they are completed. However, many of the places are sitting empty. Key parts of growth are jobs and people to fill those jobs… not more empty buildings!

  9. PC MAN says:

    The goods news is that American companies have added 1.4 million jobs, the bad news is that they created those jobs in other countries. All the profit without without having to pay honest wages. Ah thank you Corporate Republicans.

  10. sue says:

    The Palm CoastCity Commissioner., Should of never Voted themselves to becaome a city, when they did. You people have turne done a few big companyies tha could have brought alot of industry to Palm Coast, but GREED too over and the People are suffering. Thisngs keep going up and jobs are dinishing here in Flagler. Com june of 2011 you will be able to add another 142 jobs lost by the school board. Stop (SPENDING MONEY YOU ALL DO NOT HAVE.) Haven”t you all learner your lessons by NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Theresia says:

    I’d personally also like to convey that most of those who find themselves without health insurance are typically students, self-employed and people who are unemployed. More than half from the uninsured are under the age of 35. They do not experience they are looking for health insurance since they are young as well as healthy. Their income is typically spent on real estate, food, and also entertainment. Some people that do work either 100 % or as a hobby are not offered insurance by means of their work so they head out without due to the rising price of health insurance in the usa. Thanks for the ideas you share through this site.

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