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Enterprise Flagler Is No More

| August 18, 2011

Looking for a new tenant: the law firm stays, Enterprise Flagler will be gone, emptying out some 750 square feet for $1,500 a month. (© FlaglerLive)

The Enterprise Flagler board voted unanimously to disband the economic development agency by Sept. 30 today.

The unanimity was not a sign of enthusiasm from many of the Enterprise Flagler board members, but resignation to unalterable developments: the Flagler County Commission and the Palm Coast City Council, who together accounted for more than 80 percent of Enterprise Flagler’s $240,000 budget, have decided no longer to fund the private-public agency.

“It was no surprise,” Jane Mealy, the Flagler Beach commissioner on the Enterprise Flagler board said. “We knew that there was no funding from the county and no funding from Palm Coast. How were they going to survive?”

Bunnell and Flagler Beach contributed only a few thousand dollars. Private-sector members cannot afford to carry the full weight of the 11-year-old agency. It had no choice but to disband, even though Enterprise Flagler President David Ottati had floated a reorganization plan that would have streamlined the agency’s board, made its operations more transparent and beefed up its effectiveness–if Palm Coast and the county were willing to fund it.

They weren’t.

The county is floating a plan of its own for an economic development agency that has uncanny similarities to the Ottai plan. It appears that, with Palm Coast coyly sitting on the sidelines, the county is looking to own the concept of economic development rather than be an equal part of a larger, county-wide effort. Palm Coast is interpreting the county’s effort as that larger, county-wide effort, though, in effect, the city has transferred the liability of economic development to the county: if there is any failure to speak of in the future, regarding economic development, the county alone will be to blame.

That said, Palm Coast is not–not has it ever been–immune from playing the economic development game.

Enterprise Flagler currently is working with some 10 to 12 prospects, three of them needing attention in the next 30 to 60 days, Enterprise Flagler Executive Director Greg Rawls said. During the meeting today, Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon had only one contribution to the discussion: he asked for a list of those prospects.

The request did not elicit thrills from people around the table.

Another telling point of the meeting took place when Art Barr, a developer with a long history with Enterprise Flagler (he was its president for two years and filled ion at length when the agency lacked an executive director) asked the representatives of the county’s four governments around the table what plan they had to pick up where Enterprise Flagler is leaving off.

The answers were not reassuring, though Rawls clarified late today that “after September 30 [it] is my understanding that all leads will be turned over to the county” (and that the agency would pursue them until then.)

Bunnell and Flagler Beach are willing (and hoping) to sign on to whatever comes next, though both had also been willing to stick with Enterprise Flagler, had it continued.

Art Barr (© FlaglerLIve)

“And then Jon Netts pipes up,” Barr said of the Palm Coast mayor, “and says they don’t have any plans either other than they do not accept the concept of pay to play. He went back to his position that there should be one entity and that appropriate entity should be Flagler County, because they represent all citizens.”

The county was represented by Sally Sherman, the deputy administrator. She told the group that the county was looking at two plans–Enterprise Flagler’s (now dead) and a concept put forth by County Administrator Craig Coffey, which would create an Economic Development Council made up of public and private representatives, but would be led by the county and would require government participants to “pay to play” according to their population base. Palm Coast has already rejected that condition, though Flagler Beach and Bunnell have embraced it. It’s not clear where the county commissioners themselves stand: a split commission voted, 3-2, to stop paying for Enterprise Flagler, but the same majority was not in agreement with the Coffey plan.

In essence, Palm Coast and the county are clearer about what they don’t want than about what they do want, which opens the way to another period of uncertainty–and possibly inaction.

“Not to have a plan is just totally irresponsible,” Barr said, putting little stock in Palm Coast’s “Prosperity 2021″ rhetoric–a vague, small-bore plan that looks more like an umbrella for existing city initiatives, and a catchy name, than original ideas to create new jobs. It has few dollars behind it, and fewer people who could define what it stands for. “I don’t know what funds they have to do anything,” Barr said.

He’s not hopeful about the county’s plan, either. “They can’t agree with each other. If Flagler County comes up with something, I can’t imagine Palm Coast jumping on board, being a team player,” Barr said. “I can’t imagine that.”

Alan Peterson, chairmanan of the county commission, said the county-based Economic Development Council would make it a priority to appoint members from the private sector who have experience in economic development. To Ottati, the Enterprise Flagler president and CEO of Florida Hospital Flagler–the one private-sector company that has created more jobs in Flagler County than any other in the last three years–Peterson’s suggestion was offensive to Enterprise Flagler. That board is (was) made up of several representative of the private sector whose focus has been job creation.

But Enterprise Flagler was battling an image problem, too. Ottati has been its president only for a few months. For all his effectiveness and the near-universal respect he commands, the history of the agency–and the public perception of the agency as largely ineffective and secretive–has been a millstone around its neck. Ottati’s credentials are indisputable, and his plan for Enterprise Flagler looked poised to take the agency into a new, more effective, more transparent direction. That may well have been its downfall. The county and Palm Coast had been happy to use Enterprise Flagler as a punching bag as long as it didn’t challenge the authority of either government. Ottati’s plan mighty have done just that. Now Palm Coast and the county have each gone their separate way, ensuring Enterprise Flagler’s demise without having an alternative in place.

Barr compares the situation to a plane in which the pilots–Palm Coast and Flagler County–decide to shut off the engine as they decide what to do next, on their way to driving the plane into the ground. “They did their best to turn off the engine which indeed they did by not funding and drove the sucker into the ground,” Barr said, “and they were on board.”

Greg Rawls (© FlaglerLive)

Rawls, the Enterprise Flagler executive director for about two years, will, ironically, be out of work within a few weeks, adding to the county’s double-digit unemployment rate. He has four young children. The agency will also be vacating 750 square feet of office space in the building it rents for $1,500 from the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, a loss the chamber will feel in its bottom line.

Rawls warns: Volusia County went the way of Flagler some 10 years ago, when it disbanded its private-public partnership for economic development, only to delve into fiefdoms that never achieved much–and return to the public-private model last year. In the meantime, Volusia accumulated a “lost decade,” Rawls said. He sees little difference between the Ottati plan and the plan Coffey presented.

And he concedes that “there’s very few beloved economic development agencies out there.” By nature, those agencies’ involvement in private deals, private memberships and the use of public money inspires skepticism or dislike. But, Rawls said, it’s part of the compromises that have to be made on the way to fostering new jobs. “Sometimes economic development is a necessary evil in a community. People do get heartburn over it.”

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20 Responses for “Enterprise Flagler Is No More”

  1. Jan Reeger says:

    Should’a, Could’a, WOULDN’T. Our current economic conditions are the results of that inaction.
    Enterprise Flagler should be disbanding because it was so successful, it is no longer needed.
    If you are going to fund an organization, you have to follow through with funding their recommendations.
    This was not done when money was available. My compliments to Art Barr for his undaunting perseverence for so many years in the face of futility.
    The County already had their own Economic Development Commission. Late 2004, the Commissioners adopted a “Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy”. Do not recall how many thousands of $$ were spent for that report. I hope they get it out and dust it off before paying for another one. (I have a copy.) There was the IDA in 2006. And on and on. Holding a plethora of meetings is not action.
    There are positive stories of cities and counties around the nation who proactively made friendly lucrative offers to attract big business and industry. Providing tax incentives, fee abatement, expedited processing, etc. and yes, sometimes some cold hard cash have yielded success for them.
    We have no money and fewer bargaining chips.
    We never joined the game and now we are too late to play.

  2. revenge of the nerds says:

    See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya.

  3. Art Woosley says:

    Question here should be, how on earth was an agency such as this, with NO apparent accountability, allowed to stay in operation eleven years using mostly residents money to do so ?

    And why did it take them so long to realize, that they should have “streamlined the agency’s board, made its operations more transparent, and beefed up its effectiveness ?

    They had a budget of $240.000.00 dollars a year just coming in from two sources, not even counting the smaller cities like Flagler Beach etc. which also kicked in their hard earned tax money for this losing ENTERPRISE.

    So what was the TOTAL cost to the tax payers in our county over those years, and how was the money spent , what was gained from that money other than keeping it afloat for eleven years, these are a few of the things that the people footing the bill would like to know ?

    Residents of Palm Coast may also want to thank Commissioner Di Stefano for her willingness to at least speak out about this outrage. By her doing so, she saved all the tax payers from the burden of carrying this dead horse even further down the road.

    Yes, Palm Coast made the correct decision in saying they no longer wanted to ” Pay to Play”, with such a poorly administered group.

    My question now for our Flagler Beach city leaders is this, why did our city not say NO ?

    Did Commissioner Mealy make this important decision on her own, as it appears she evidentially (EMBRACED the “Pay to Play”) that would continue our support of the county proposal for a so-called new, and improved agency ( **they think changing some hats, and the name may help ) ?

    If so, why was this done without her first coming before our commission, and to the residents in order to seek their input, and or approval, if this was for a new board, did she have that kind of authority ?

  4. palmcoaster says:

    These influential speakers are some of the well connected elite in this county like Mr. Art Bart and Jan Reeger (the latest probably, not sure), as many others that profit heavily from their local government contacts and are always the same ones being invited first to freebies appreciation gatherings organized by the clicker Flagler County Chamber of Outsourcing to events like the one’s held by Ginn in the past, aboard the “Sundancer” , etc. Not the 90 per cent of the 9,000 small business in this county get contacted, invited to these fancy events or interviewed by the local media, FCCOC or government IT’s to suggest how to improve our economy by creating more jobs. And we are the real employers in this county and the one’s that do not ask for freebies or taxpayers funds as we know well being taxpayers ourselves. Examples; A) Carl Laundry county IT a big waste of our 80.000 plus a year spends most his time on the government paid TV channel blabing about the old terratenients like the Ponds, etc here. Why don’t they start advertising about our local paradise for businesses on that channel instead and use the high rate created position of Laundrie to work on just contacting those prospective’s? B) Holland wasting time on meetings with high paid Hiser too, about the wondrous amount of tourist “they are supposedly reeling in” by inviting free stays for magazine writers mostly in Florida for a two line exposure if they place it, on their publications? When we the residents are we going to get a detail amount of tourist attracted by Hiser every year? She sure demands that any county or city event organized by volunteers and funded by small businesses “documents on detail hotel occupancy” od they are denied any TDC grants.. Transparency is a must when more than 670,000 a year is given to one person (Hiser) to do a job without proof of real results.
    You all can see how this county commissioners and city councilmen have wasted our tax dollars for more than the 11 years of Enterprise on existence plus these accommodated “pseudo high priced consultants” given our hard earned taxes to the tune of $1.200 /hour for “nothing” What these dudes from out of our county may know about our economic needs better than we the small operating businesses in this county do? Even our local realtors sure know more how to contact out of our area business prospects to move here, better than a rocket scientist paid those rates. Right there we have a free wasted source on our realtors knowledge and contacts. Like I said before, commissioner Peterson needs to go to Biloxi and use his own many “to pay to play”. He needs to go, next time ballots are available. Milissa Holland also goofing up pushing still our tax dollars for TDC and FCCOC VP Peggy Hiser in a wasteful tourism reeling that ain’t working. Why TDC is funding the Parent Magazine? What this Volusia Flagler publication has to do with tourism? Just influential adjudicated benefit for a well connected elite! Why Hiser a Volusia County resident is holding a position paid in Flagler with TDC and Flagler taxpayers $$$, while spending it in Volusia? When all these elite, digest the reality shock that we the tax payers residents and small business employers of Flagler county had it with benefits to the special interest, that have been so damaging to us all in this county and change heads or change attitude then, not before, we will see the positive results. Maybe when our government entities buyers including the school buyer and FCCOC and TDC and our hospital (yes Mr. Ottatti look into your hospital buying records, you may not be aware) stop their outsourcing, hundreds of jobs will be created in this county. The excuse of saving tax payers monies when they putsource the contracts funded by us, is bogus! Kick backs are the sad reality!

  5. says:

    any money left over in the kitty? maybe all the ones involved will have a going away party, what a racket, thanks for all the jobs like a big 7 dollar an hour at target.

  6. says:

    what a combination a lawyer and a banker, like putting a fox the the hen house.

  7. palmcoaster says:

    Just for Flagler County and its cities the above Pro Enterprise speaker Jan Reeger connections as well:
    As all can see here both speakers in favor of defunct Enterprise Flagler have ties to local lawyers, influential personalities and more important of it all “developers”. Our community needs to get informed to realize where the undermining decisions that increase the costly goof ups we are forced to pay for, to benefit the local elite, are originated. In few words Who is Who in charge here.

  8. Layla says:

    Is it just me, or does anyone else have a problem with paying developers to bring jobs to Palm Coast? If Mr. Barr wants to continue trying to bring business into Palm Coast, that’s wonderful. I commend him for it. And I am almost certain he has the venture capital to put together such a group.

    But why should I have to pay him to do this? Shouldn’t his profits be in the return on his investment and not my tax dollars?

    We have elected people to represent this City. Let them do the jobs we elected them to do.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Here we have the sugar coated News Journal version of Enterprise Flagler’s demise.
    Mr. Garry Lubi being the head of the local Prosperity Bank, should have his bank foot the over 240,000/year for Enterprise ED. They have the sources to create a way to get repaid once the goal achieved by the new business in town utilizing the services of the bank that funds Enterprise. Don’t know why Commissioner Peterson was so surprised of the EF unfold after he proposed that “we should pay to play”. He needs to take his proposal to Biloxi and do not do it with other people’s monies.
    Mr. Garry Lubi is the one that lauded the hiring with our monies,(not his banks funds), the outsider rocket scientist consultant Mr. Upton to achieve nothing at $1,200/hour plus.
    As you can see next, these same elite from banks, lawyers firms, developers with plenty of big pockets are the same one’s that seat at most of Flagler County and its cities Boards like TDC, FCCOC, EF etc…they are always after lobbying and grabbing hold of our hard earned tax dollars for “their pet blunderous self serving projects” forced on us all. I can reassure you that they make it impossible for an honest resident lobbying to benefit the local tax payers and applying to a vacancy to be appointed by them, to serve in this neat closed circles.
    Always the same detrimental elite and this is why we have in Flagler County the second highest unemployment rate in Florida. They even outsource Upton at over 1,200/hour of our monies for zero gain. They do not represent the needs of the 8,100 non FCCOC members local businesses, that employ most of our local workers, neither represent the best interest of the local taxpayers.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    Here we go again…
    A high rate admission “for profit” of the Ginn Hammock Beach Resort and organizer, where the elite will attend for free but the local businesses have to pay $200 for a booth, $125 per first person and $100 for the second….we are talking here about helping barely surviving local businesses…right? And the City of Palm Coast new rocket scientist Joseph Roy probably paid 60,000 plus a year for city ED and only saved “one job since May? Regarding the 20,000 gather that saved one business from shutting doors…?If this helped local business received my tax payers funds of 20,000 I demand to be disclosed as being public records. Reminds me that Cake Across and the secrecy that got us stack with half a million refund of their grant to the state being footed by us now. We the real small local businesses do not need capital we need them government and public used entities to stop outsourcing our taxpayers generated contracts to start with, in order to employ more workers.

  11. SAW says:

    Layla, You are 100 % correct, and are not alone in your assessment, unfortunately most people pay little attention to government in general, or even the fact that their tax dollars are going to people in organizations like this, that have their own personal gain in mind.

    Sad part is that our elected officials submit, encourage and accommodate them, with our dollars.

  12. Art Barr says:

    Too bad ignorance isn’t painful because most of the above would be in the hospital by now. Ottati’s hospital, how ironic. After thousands of personal un-paid volunteer hours, and I am not alone in that, and never having gotten a direct lead or any economic benefit, we are all tired of beating our civic minded heads against a political wall.

    Maybe some for the whiners and nay-sayers can figure out how to do something positive for their community instead of just complaining. Good luck, because some of the brightest and most capable members of this community have had enough of this thankless task.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    I applaud the City of Palm Coast, Senior Economic Planner Beau Folgout on his intention strategic the city buyers about “buying locally” . He will find out plenty probably that can be redirected from Volusia County and other areas suppliers to our local City of Palm Coast one’s instead, if sincerely they have their best intention “no matter what”.
    I do not agree to hold this business assistance Expo at these high rates of admission and booth prices as we are not talking here about “the elite businesses, doing well now” but instead directed to the small business on distress and also employees looking for jobs most of which will no be affording the fancy location and pricey drinks and food. At these rates is obvious the “plenty for profit event for Ginn Developer and organizers” Same old same old…”winning and dinning the elite” instead of realistically including the small businesses that create the real jobs. Why don’t you guys start small ….invite the small business community to the location of City Hall now rent some tents and fans if city do not have their own..”give out space” and have all your professionals invited for the event take care of business right there like they do in the home show, but at no charge. We want these businesses tell us their needs in order to hire more correct? No need for lavish parties at preposterous admission tickets…as serious issues will be discussed over some iced te, bottled water and cookies. Looks like you forgot that we have an economic crisis.
    Even the County Administration Building and parking areas can be solicited for the event including the commissioners amphitheater location, as we the taxpayers are still paying the bonds for it. Or another better location the DBCC Campus amphitheater and parking area as that land and structures were donated by ITT for the Palm Coaster’s services and partially denied use now by DBC, due to security cost involved alleged by the college.

    If you can afford to go:
    Palm Coast’s Business Assistance Center is planning a “business to business assistance expo” in October.
    WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 7.
    WHERE: Hammock Beach Resort (Ginn’s)
    COSTS: Admission is $125 per person. An exhibition booth is $200 and includes one free ticket, with each additional person costing $100.
    DETAILS: For more information, call 386-986-4765

  14. palmcoaster says:

    Art, when we go to the Flagler Hospital is not free for sure. We make the hospital successful by using it, is NO CHARITY, as we pay for the service. I appreciate the 7th Day Adventist Church to build their hospital here, also the great intentions of Mr. David Otatti regarding ED but he was guided into the wrong way as a newcomer by the local Who is Who. So you know also that after the hospital opening some of the local suppliers lost business to Volusia County for that. That is why I suggest to you all, that ED start at home and looking from inside out, what really is being done currently. We are not ignorant’s and facts are being documented for all here. The hours that residents like yourself volunteer on these local and influential Boards are with small or large strings attached. Otherwise you would not see many of the same individuals in all different influential Boards. Is impossible to be appointed to these circles aka elite boards, unless “one is politically correct to their intentions” Also witch hunting abounds, that is why many keep it shut, to stay in business. To the contrary we do not have as many whiners and nay-sayers needed yet, to change was is still wrong now.
    The real volunteering is not only on these influential boards, but as we many do, in the hospital grounds in our community organizations, art organizations, sports and physical fitness as well and in the schools, these are the no strings attached volunteers that often get undermined by denial of grants for their events by some of the elite in the influential boards. Just in case you were not aware, Art. This county and cities, need a change of course into progress and employment from now on.

  15. Layla says:

    Wow, well said, Palmcoaster. Well said.

    Why does the fee to the business conference have to be so high? Can anyone answer that? I don’t think I’d attend…. this city doesn’t have such a great record, nor does the Chamber, in helping small business. Here we go again, another high dollar event…

    Now they want you to pay for the privilege? Sounds a lot like pay to play to me.

    Whatever happened to the days of special council hearings with all local business? If you’re hungry, bring a sandwich.

  16. Liana G says:

    Palmcoaster, thank you for the timeless dedication you put in to shed light on the shenanigans of this town. I have learned a lot from reading your post especially since you also go the extra mile to provide your sources.

    It bemuses me when some individuals choose to belittle others as winers, complainers, and nay sawers just because they do not agree with their opinions. While this strategy may well work on the ignorant to get them to shut up, getting thinking people to do so is highly unlikely.

    Change doesn’t come from doing nothing, even if it’s just to voice an opinion – i.e., to speak, an action verb.

  17. palmcoaster says:

    Thank you Layla and Liana.
    I do not invent, undermine or manipulate information. I just tell historical events with historical facts. When the economy was fine we, the small local businesses could endure better the cliche’s, clicks and unfairness. Now from 2008 until now things changed for the worst and all these outsourcing and lobbying to benefit only the small group of elites in this county and its cities, is what keep us at 16.5% (utopical 14.5% reported now) unemployment rate, the second highest in Florida.
    We have to appreciate the opportunity that Flagler Live gives us here so we can inform ourselves better and also learn from each other and why things are the way they are currently and sadly so bad for many of our fellow American workers laid off and business closing down.

  18. Steve Wolfe says:

    Lots of heat and smoke. Not much light. Any solutions, other than to punish the elite? Would like to see a point-by-point presentaion of what the business community needs in order to create jobs. Then you can rally around the people who will lead under such enlightenment.

    Who is John Galt?

  19. palmcoaster says:

    Steve we all here gave plenty of ideas and realistic solutions regarding ED. is this the first time you read our comments? The powers that be did not read our suggestions at all or ignore them.
    One and very important start with stopping the outsourcing that takes place from government buyers as well as private entities that serve the tax payers of this cities and county and outsource a lot of their buying our of our area. Hundreds of jobs will be brought back here if this outsourcing will stop using always the same bogus excuse….to save tax payers dollars. Actually does not and instead favor special interest.

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