Two days into it and 45 minutes from its scheduled end at 5 p.m. this afternoon, the county-wide economic development summit got real.
It was 4:15 this afternoon, 45 minutes before the scheduled end of the county-wide economic development summit. The assembly was high on sloganeering (“one team, one voice, one message”) and even higher on self-congratulations over five “strategic goals” distilled from 10 hours of discussion. The moderator, Don Upton, was pumped—and pumping others—over getting some “action” out of those goals by setting more “task force” meetings to flesh out the five strategies and come back to yet another county summit on March 18 (and another $7,250 for Upton and his Tampa-based consulting firm).
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Then the meeting got real, especially when the words one message were added to the rest of that slogan.
“I’m going to be the spoiler on that one,” Jim Landon, the Palm Coast city manager, said. “One team one voice, but we are not all going to have the same assets, the same resources, some of the same goals. So we have to be careful that we’re not saying that we’re going to do nothing but build industry, because some people here in Flagler County do not want industry in their backyard.”
The five strategies were driven largely by business voices in the room—the chambers of commerce, builders, developers, whose representatives elected officials had hand-picked to be part of the summit. Not a single outright retiree was picked, although almost half the county’s population is not in the labor force by choice, and a large portion of that half, much of it in Palm Coast, is made up of retirees, while Palm Coast has been forging ahead with its own economic development model on terms it believes are the better fit for the city. Landon was reminding the assembly that there are other constituencies in play. “You can’t try to lay one priority on all of us.”
Colleen Conklin, the school board member, told Landon that his statement was creating angst, and that perhaps he wanted to clarify it. No need, Landon said. “A slogan is just a slogan, but I thought we were trying to do something new,” he said, though the phrase was returning the county to the same old message. “So why would you take an old phrase that nobody thinks works and put it on your new plan?”
Upton intervened, assuring Landon that “we are not developing a brand slogan or a tag line at this time.” Only a few minutes earlier, Upton had responded to one suggestion by saying that the slogan would be bannered at the top of his reports.
Landon wasn’t saying anything new himself. He was verbalizing the very reason why the summit was called in the first place. Last January, when local governments met in their first such meeting, without a moderator, they discovered that they had fundamental differences: Palm Coast and Flagler Beach were not in agreement with the county’s and Bunnell’s plan to add a sales tax that would fund economic development. Nor was there agreement on who would lead a county-wide economic development organization. They didn’t even have an overall plan on what sort of economic development they might all agree on. The governments agreed to call in a facilitator to help them see through.
In walked Upton and this weekend’s two-day summit. But Upton never touched on two of the three fundamental disagreements, and he discovered, late in the day, that the third—the five strategic plans—did not necessarily have a consensus. Robbie Richmond, president of the Flagler Home Builders Association, said he could not believe that any voter would object to the five strategic goals. Jane Mealy, the Flagler Beach City Commissioner, raised her hand from the opposite end of the room and reminded Richmond that in Flagler Beach at least, voters very much would object. Palm Coast council member Frank Meeker said as much, reminding the assembly that the elected have a general fund budget to look after, and that some of those goals would cost money. “The taxpayers are not all lined up on this issue,” Meeker said.
The “strategic goals” were not significantly different from Friday’s wish-list discussion of Flagler’s economic future, merely more categorized: “Exceptional customer service” for businesses dealing with local government; an educational system from early childhood to college and technical schools rich in links; a “robust entrepreneurial environment” where all business—small, new, mom and pop, corporate—is prized; recruitment of targeted industries; and maximizing “regionalism” in local policy-making.
“I want to wrap up that we make sure that we take some action from here,” Upton said, but the action he had in mind was more meetings.
Just before Landon weighed in, Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts summarized the two days’ work in one sentence, delivered—to little effect—to the moderator: “This is not the linchpin to economic development. This is part of the process.” Don Upton, the moderator, thanked him and moved on. Netts earlier had characterized some of Saturday afternoon’s discussions as “loosey-goosey,” though he said that could be the impetus for everyone to “tighten things up.” He’d also reminded the assembly that targeting industries is a thrice-repeated exercise in the county (by the city, the county and Enterprise Flagler). The list of targeted industries hasn’t changed much.
Several people spoke glowingly of the collegiality of the two-day meeting, terming it unprecedented for enabling various governments and interests to speak with each other at length and toward the same ends, if not necessarily the same methods.
Art Barr, a member of the Enterprise Flagler board of directors and a member of the chamber, summed up the two-day summit this way: “We’ve got a collaborative message, but that message is just our foundation. But then you come down to the organizational structure and the funding. Those are the two question marks.”
Monday morning (March 7), County Commission Chairman Alan Peterson had his own brief sum-up for his fellow-commissioners: “The final session,” he said, referring to March 18, “will be the key to the entire exercise.”