Flagler County government created its economic development department In January 2012. That month, Flagler County had 37,000 people with jobs, and an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent. Last month the county had 47,000 people with jobs, and an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent. In other words, 10,000 people who live in Flagler have gained jobs in eight years or so.
The day Helga van Eckert was hired as the economic development director, then-County Administrator Craig Coffey joked that the newly established economic development board had two months to produce 200 jobs. You’d be hard pressed to find that the board and the department produced much more than that in eight years, though it’s cost taxpayers about $3.5 million in that time span. The number of times the board has met may well exceed the number of jobs it helped create.
The department at the county administration building shows off a few gaudy posters of companies it “landed,” but you can count them on one hand, plus a finger or two. There’s a reason the department never produced a tally sheet showing what it has in fact produced, over and above PR promises. It would be an embarrassment if it did, especially if you include the companies it pretended were sure things, only to have those deals collapse after the glossy press releases were issued, falsely claiming victory.
We’re not just talking about Discovery World Furniture, the latest of those collapses. The deal looked questionable from the start. The county was willing to give a nearly $700,000 tax break to the company even though, as Palm Coast banker and economic development cheerleader Bruce Page–who co-owns the land of Discovery–told the Ormond Beach City Commission, almost all of its employees would live and spend in Volusia, paying taxes in Volusia. Sure we should be happy for jobs wherever they are–but not at the expense of our own tax subsidies, which the company would have had to use to
Commissioners were willing to provide the gift long past their own expiration dates (the annual tax breaks would have stretched toward the end of the next decade) even though the amateurs at economic development hadn’t checked behind Realtor Margaret Sheehan-Jones’s inaccurate claim that water and sewer were secured for the site. County Administrator Jerry Cameron, a fixer by trade, did a lot of scrambling to fix that situation and get Ormond Beach to agree to hook the place up with water and sewer, but it was too late, the company owner pulled out.
It was a repeat of the Aveo Engineering catastrophe. You might remember that flight of fancy: the promise of 300 jobs at the airport, complete with a groundbreaking featuring Governor Scott and every blind suit in the county. More failures followed happy PR announcements, like that Georgian (as in the former Soviet Republic) stoneworks company getting a $15,000 incentive two years ago to create 40 jobs locally (10 of them “indirect” in that magical-realism way of economic development fabulists), though we never heard of it again after the PR blast. What about that “spec” building to which the county provided $90,000 in subsidies over 10 years? The building–previously brokered by Shehan-Jones (she said this month she was no longer the broker)–was supposed to be a magnet for new manufacturing companies. It’s been sitting vacant for over a year, so desperate for tenants that it was briefly considered as a temporary sheriff’s operations center (the sheriff didn’t go for it: too expensive, too temporary.)
Most of the subsidies are structured as “performance-based,” so the county didn’t actually lose any of that subsidy on the furniture or the stoneworks companies, or on Aveo. But the economic development department and its sycophants brandish that qualifier as exculpatory, when they should be focused on the deceptions of their PR machine and the continued waste in operating expenses of that barely-performing economic development department. They got all the public play they wanted with announcements of these alleged victories only to leave us with little Potemkins (surely built with beautiful facades from that Georgian company). And still they gather once a month as a board to pat each other on the back and tell their audience of six what an extraordinary, what a glorious job their department is doing. At least the money the department spends to publicize itself is paying dividends.
And if you include projects the board and van Eckert took credit for, even though they had hardly anything to do with them, like Coastal Cloud or the recent decision by Flagler Hospital to set up a beach-head in Palm Coast, the picture gets more embarrassing still. To look viable of course the department has no choice but to take credit for things it had little to do with other than as a glorified receptionist.
The number I mentioned a couple of minutes ago says it all: 10,000 jobs created in those eight years, almost all of them no thanks to that department. The department was created as a spur to the local economy. Had it never been created, that spur would have happened anyway–and who knows what else might have happened had the obviously clumsy hands of the department not interfered. Yet it continues to pick and choose its cozy relationships and favored businesses at public expense. Funny how this economic development board stocked with fiscal conservatives turn socialists at the drop of a taxpayer-funded subsidy that validates their pretentions.
You can claim that its existence helps the economic climate that produced those 10,000 jobs, but if you want to go down that route, you might as well take credit for the jobs in Palm Coast, Volusia, St. Johns, or Wichita County, Kansas, which had an unemployment rate of 1.5 percent last month. Our economic development department isn’t just fond of fictional economic-multipliers, but of its own multiplying fishes and loaves.
And still, this half million dollar a year drain on local government continues. The money is paying for a fantastic marketing machine–not for Flagler County, but for the economic development department itself. It’s not small change. That half-million dollar is enough to put four cops on the streets, to run the county’s emergency helicopter 24 hours a day instead of 12 (which saves lives, not imaginary jobs), to better support social services like the Family Life Center, to more than fully staff the future public library branch in Bunnell.
Flagler’s economic development department is more than a drain. It’s an indefensible waste at taxpayers’ expense. County government can do the job of economic development receptionist for the same results, and a fraction of the cost. It’s time to do so.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.
Lee Michaud says
How come the people we voted for to protect our tax dollars are not doing something about is? It’s time the voters spend more time looking into are Representative voting records on are behalf.
I think the same would apply to the Tourism development department…..how much revenue in bed taxes would be lost by closing that department down compared to what is spent on employees, benefits, giveaways, marketing etc etc etc. I’d bet the ROI of closing that department as well would be greater than it is now. If these were profitable ventures you can be sure private businesses would be selling that service to gubmint’s across the country as contractors. Put all that money back in to taxpayers hands to spend and it would generate more jobs than either department does.
This is such a boondoggle, only Helga van Eckert has gain from this department.
Otherwise she wouldn’t have a jog.
The county commission should dissolve this fiasco ASAP.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Thank you Pierre. Poor Jerry Cameron….. I cannot find more words than those so aptly expressed by FlaglerLive,com
van Eckert needs running papers -walking papers can’t be issued son enough in my personal unqualified opinion
Now the city wants to get into the unprofitable business of the” Palm Harbor Marina” Ownership.It will take another SEVERAL MILLION DOLLARS to renovate the Marina.I believe the Marina should be purchased by a private owner and the city should focus on buying the land on our beautiful HISTORIC Golf Course that is currently up for REZONING.The developer wants to build to build FIVE HUGE 3 STORY APARTMENT BUILDINGS IN THE HART OF OUR GOLF COURSE…That would RUIN ALL THE HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOODS encompassing the golf course.The CITY COUNCIL needs to understand that they work WHAT’S IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE TAX PAYERS AND WHAT THE COMMUNITY WANTS and NOT FOR DEVELOPERS !
Goodbye Flagler says
Historic…really. Nothing historic about Palm Coast. This county will go nowhere until we become more business friendly, the only city with less of a vision for the future is Flagler Beach! Lets open another tattoo parlor!
Keep government out of public Business’, marinas , restaurants, golf courses, tourism venues….haven’t we learned our lessons?
More overhead, salaries, risks, liabilities!
Form strategic partnerships with Companies who do this for a living….have private enterprise, NOT government run these facilities….
There are enough challenges in ‘standard’ government as we know it… …..infrastructure , economic growth, dune preservation, tourism revenue, employment expansion/opportunities, affordable housing.
Time to get focused!
Normally when you undertake a new venture you have a business plan that contains success milestones which if not met the venture is terminated. So lets see the following (plan vs actual)
Return on Investment and Payback period. Dont have em, no accountability? KILL THE TAX!
Quail Hollow resident says
About the only jobs created around here not population related are flight schools. We have more of those than mattress stores and banks. These schools have DESTROYED quality of life around the airport. They operate with complete disregard for decency. Noise abatement is whats missing from their operation now that they’re here. They airport management is deaf to the complaints that have been brought up. These are garbage industries when they are allowed to run amok as they have here.
Flagler Resident says
The airport has been there since World War II and long before you were a resident in Quail Hollow. Growth is evident. Did you expect air traffic wouldn’t grow?
corey gollon says
Normal air traffic is one thing that’s not a problem. Flight school traffic is obnoxious. It’s 95% of what occurs here. Our dink airport has a staggering number of take offs and landings. They operate non stop. Take off in weak underpowered LOUD planes, turn sharply at soonest opportunity, return to airport ASAP and repeat. Utilize touch and go operations which emit the most noise possible in surrounding neighborhoods. Noise abatement techniques could be used to reduce the noise but these schools operate with only one thing in mind, drain the students bank accounts as quickly as possible. “Flagler resident”, your comment reflects a lack of understanding of the issue. Think of it like this, I’m your neighbor, I’ve decided to ride my harly with straight pipes 2 times every minute for hours right by your house. Oh well, growth is evident. I’m sure you would’nt mind. Our airport generates grossly abnormal amounts of noise.
CB from PC says
Well said, Pierre. I agree with you. Furthermore, this is an economic, not political problem.
One solution would be to do some number crunching and have the County incentivize job creation with Palm Coast Data, Coastal Cloud and some of the other larger existing companies.
This would be less costly than chasing some out of the area ghost.
And it would not require a realtor hack and crony EDC partner.
Finally, better wage jobs mean less people needing housing subsidies.
Another excellent commentary on the sad state of affairs in Flagler County, Mr. Tristam. Corruption at its finest. The good ole boy network is alive and well here. These people should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves.
On a different note, my neighbor has multiple code and permit violations visible from the street, and yet nothing is ever done about it. Talk about favoritism and fraud. I curse the day I moved to this County, and I can’t wait to get out.
I second. That. A few more loose ends and 4SALE. 25years ago was great and glad I lived it. Movin on time.
You must live on my block in FB. When my neighbor called about a long-neglected hazard, she was told they have better things to do!!!!
What a joke. Is it just ineptitude or something else going on here?
I have my beliefs and it has nothing to do with inability.
Lil Bird says
Amen! Well said! about time this hotty-totty group, like the Chamber employees, stop draining our precious local funds with it’s pretenses. Obviously neither are helping the economic growth in our county and we have nearly a decade of research (and expenditures) to prove it. May our County Commissioners have the ba**s to drain the Coffey swamp.
They didn’t try to save 450 jobs at Sea Ray boats
I still would like to know the real story about that.
John Kent says
Yeah, get government out of all and any type of business because it’s not their BUSINESS. So many examples, why to stop at that useless empty building on US 1?
What about 3 cottages built in Princess Place preserve… at the price per square foot much higher than any beach front mansion ?! They sit nice and empty. In a couple of years they will look like total garbage.
What about school district taxes going higher while school district has been loosing students for at least 2-3 years in a row?
Never had a chance but imagine how cool it feels to be able to get all money you want to spend just by directing everyone to pay! And then just splurge….
Tom Foolery says
I did a dog and pony show in front of van Eckerd, Falgout, and a couple others a while back introducing my company to the area. An entity that was presented as not only an employer of very hi-tech and high pay jobs, but also an above normal city and county tax revenue generator (not just property and sales taxes).
Not a single follow up call or meeting. Went in person to the so called Business Assistance Center numerous times to ask the simple question… What do you do? Never a clear answer. For what its worth, the chamber was a useless waste of time and money also.
At the time they all had their heads so far up Coastal Cloud’s ass none seemed capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. The local bank inclusive. They simply did not put forth any time and effort.
Our headquarters and people are in Daytona now, suffice it to say. If you’re going to get nothing from the county, then might as well get that nothing in a far more populated and cheaper place with more opportunity for success. Flagler is a pass-through retirement community, and absolutely horrid place to set up any significant non healthcare or non real estate business.
Ky Ekinci says
What is your company Tom?
Excellent article Pierre. Just think of how that money could have been better spent helping the homeless in our county (those who really wanted and needed help). Or even better yet we could have spent the money on more “Art” for the town center. As you know this county needs more culture.
Pierre Tristam says
Fredrick I know from your previous lusty lyricism about Burro With a Bird in Town Center that you’re not much for art or culture at public expense. But without either, we’re less than nothing, since we’re denying what makes us more than mere beasts. Cities and towns that spend on the arts are great cities. Cities and towns that don’t are material splotches on the map, as indistinct one from the other as water towers substituting for identity. I’m not at all kidding when I say that we’d be a far far better place-and inherently, immensely more attractive to businesses and residents—if we spent every dime of that $450,000 on culture and the arts (or education, which is kin to either) than on that friends-with-benefits scheme they have going now.
Pierre it is about priorities You say that without art and culture we are less then nothing. I say without compassion for others in need we are nothing. Again, I know that many of the homeless in our county do not want to be helped. But there are those who do and will accept help.
County charges double the ad valorem yearly taxes in our homes than city does and those county commissioners keep delapidating them among their significant local beneficiaries; realtors, bankers , lawyer owned land owner and some business owners. That is why the overpaid taxes to the county is used for. Look at what they bought from Shean Jones; the old hospital, the Sears building, the Bank in Old kings road all seating empty and rottening away and now they come for a 35 million sheriff station in Palm Coast, there is no stop the draining of our pockets. The useless waste of the County Economic Development BS is just one of the fraudulent way that BOCC uses to benefit their cozy ones, themselves on our hard earned taxes.
Looks like city did away with their BAC after few months ago in a council meeting the Mayor’s presented with local businesses complaints of non city collaboration with them and someone attending the meeting told the Mayor why did we spend in the BAC? just do away with it.
Now this developer wants to build multifamily housing in the very center of our historical original Palm Coast Golf Course and we the 200 or more frustrated adjacent residents attendees were told that the hearing to neighbors was just informative meaning our opposition do not count? https://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2011/166.041. The developer owns the driving range and is vital to the preservation of the golf course then lets trade with him the land we own in Bull Dog drive in Town Center for those 16 acres, and done deal. Regarding the marina…just lets get our hotel and restaurant back, and hold on to the marina until first city can prove can get grants as will be millions in repairs to pay for it and get the land for a launching and go ramp only no parking. After all the landowner/developer special exceptions have expired and they need a rezoning…so lets work the best deal for us and not the landowner this time like happened before! Our city chart protects the existing residents for land development creating negative implications for then by growth: Objective 3.3.5 – Protect Residential Areas from Inappropriate Land Uses
Protect predominantly residential areas from the intrusion of incompatible or more intensive land uses.
Policy 184.108.40.206 – The City shall amend the LDC to include development standards that provide greater setback and buffering requirements between established residential areas and other uses to ensure compatibility between uses.
Policy 220.127.116.11 – The City shall develop neighborhood compatibility criteria which shall be utilized by the City to review applications for Future Land Use Map amendments, rezonings, and special exceptions to ensure that proposed land uses and development do not adversely impact existing residential areas.Objective 3.3.5 – Protect Residential Areas from Inappropriate Land Uses.
Pierre, you are spot on. Quantifiable, defined ‘new’ job results matter; not figures/ charts justifying non-performance that confuse many.
No doubt parties mentioned are now in defensive mode, still trying to justify what has been delivered to taxpayers …essentially the same ‘soft PR benefits’ . The whole approach is flawed, partnerships with the Jax development have not yielded anything significant as compared to neighboring counties.
Also, Consultants hired have not done their job…..flawed strategies and advise.
Better yet, let’s wipe the slate clean and start from scratch ,,,establishing quantifiable targets, and definitions of new jobs generated. Lets seek new strategies, key partnerships to generate jobs!
Let’s be clear, this has been requested for years, let’s face reality..it’s time for change before we get left behind while others prosper.
Mike Cocchiola says
It’s time to hold this Commission accountable for Margaret Sheehan-Jones. How does she get away with selling white elephants to the county? Who are her benefactors? Who’s making the money? I urge all citizens to confront the commission in open meetings and ask these questions.
Definitely an F. Failure on all counts. Haven’t seen much return on money spent. Its liquidation time for that position /Committee . Nice job on the article and for reminding the populous for when Elections are on.
Outside Looking Out says
I am so glad I got the hell out of Flagler County. I’m sure there are “good ole boys” everywhere but not as blatant as Flagler County. I have to laugh at these comments and there are a couple I’d like to respond to.
1. Quail Hollow resident says – Sir, with all due respect, the airplane has been invented and it is here to stay. Anyone wanting to fly, must learn how. My suggestion to you is: Don’t look up and wear ear plugs. They are NOT going away.
2. PalmCoaster – There is nothing in Flagler County (including your golf course) that is old enough to be considered “historic”.
The sad part of getting rid of any organization like the Economic Development Department is; it will only be replaced by another money wasting department entwined with: the good ole boys.
Great article Mr. Tristam.
We the residents that passionately love our community just “do not give up and move away”. If our moon landing in 1969 is consider historic so is the founding of Palm Coast by ITT :https://www.palmcoastgov.com/about/history.
And yes our Palm Harbor Golf Course and most of the thousands of one single family homes that surround it are historic in spite of the denial of some. For all those homes is that our PHGC is here to stay “we earned it”. For those that decide to leave this county and cities over frustration issues I wish them good and happy “unknown” trails as there is not a perfect world anywhere. For those of us that decide to remain longer and battle for the preservation of our local quality of life lets unite with determination and keep it up. Reason is where else we will find a city were we can still afford to seat in our lanais and view waters and hear the birds singing while sipping our morning coffee and walk ourselves or our furr babies , jog or cycle for miles and miles of safe trails surrounded by tropical hammock and wild life and in areas of water front watching sail and other boats cruising by. Open waters for kayaking, boating, paddle boarding, canoeing and fishing. Sports for all children and adults and close and affordable to all. I enjoyed this am watching those tennis players having fun in Holland Park and the multitude of happy dogs and their owners socializing in its dog park while I walked my elated dogs around. So the ones of us that stay put and hold our ground in Flagler County for sure no Good Old Boys will scare us away…we started “dealing with them” well lately . May the only thing for us that make us move is just to become too old to maintain our large homes and may need to downsize and get to move closer to our kids. But that is the way of life not Flagler County’s fault..
Percy's mother says
The Flagler County Board of County Commissioners and/or Mr. Cameron have been silent on the latest debacle stemming from Ms. van Eckert’s LACK of job performance.
Ms. Van Eckert no longer maintains any credibility in regards to her job position. In other words, what’s she getting paid for?
By the way, what IS her salary? What are the taxpayers paying her for?
The time for all the BS associated with Mr. Coffey’s mismanagement of Flagler County is over.
The taxpayers are bloody FED-UP with the mismanagement, lack of management, and as well, the highly paid county employees who have ZERO job performance OR who are lining their pockets (as well as Ms. Sheehan-Jones’ pockets).
Ms. van Eckert needs to go. Anything other than her resignation or Flagler County “moving in a different direction” (her being let go) will be unacceptable.
As for Ms. Sheehan-Jones, when’s that investigation going to take place?
Thanks for exposing our local government waste Pierre. I never agree with you but I do agree with you on this. I’ve been here 30 years and can understand some appreciation for their being a historic area in our young town. But I also appreciate years back when I used to think our county commissioners were frugal. Now everyone is in it for an easy job and they don’t have the experience to do their job. This bumbling around needs to stop. Incompetent employees are hurting this city and county. They are all, our employees!
Drain the “swamp” and all of the corruption then vote in people who will actually do what they say they would for their constituents. It’s time that we take back control of our governments and public offices. Let’s put people in office that have some common sense instead of being self-serving looking out for themselves.
Dedicated American says
Excellent reporting Pierre to tax payers that have absolutely no clue as to what our county administrator past, Greg Coffey and county commissioners have done to our county financially, listening to the Federal Government dictating to our counties. I hope our now Administrator Jerry Cameron will give Helga Van Echert her walking papers and save our county five million dollars a year.