The CEDD position deserves a closer look

Posted: June 13, 2012 in Economic Development

I believe it’s worth taking a closer look at the Mayor’s proposal to hire someone to head a reactivated Community and Economic Development Department. Taxpayers who are concerned about how their tax bills will increase need to start thinking about more than just cutting expenses, and start thinking about the best ways to invest our tax dollars in new ideas to help our economy get out of the rut our city finds itself in.

I’ll say upfront, I don’t think the CEDD is the best possible plan. I’ve said before that I support the idea of creating a new, dynamic private-public organization based on Flippin’s Big A idea. However, the Mayor has made it clear that she doesn’t support this. So unless Flippin and I are ready to literally beat the streets and rally the masses on this issue, I don’t see it happening anytime soon. I believe, however, that if some of the concepts from Big A were incorporated into the new CEDD, that the argument for re-instituting this department would be a lot stronger and have a better chance of actually generating a return on the taxpayers’ investment.

The main argument against the CEDD is that the job of economic development can be handled by the existing agencies such as the Amsterdam Industrial Agency, the Urban Renewal Agency, and the Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency. The problem is that while these agencies certainly contribute to our economy, they only specialize in certain areas. I’ve written before that I see AIDA’s success as primarily in the area of manufacturing and distribution. The MCIDA, I propose, is similarly oriented.

I think taxpayers need to ask themselves if they are content with the progress that these current organizations have made. If not, then what do we do about it?

I do not believe that an organization presently exists that is effective at bringing in small businesses, bringing businesses to our downtown, or attracting information technology and nanotechnology businesses. I don’t see an organization that currently exists that has a fully articulated strategy for building on the Global Foundries development or NY State’s Tech Valley Initiative.  I also do not see an organization that is currently capable of creating and executing a marketing plan that ties together all the economic development incentives that are available to businesses in the city, and serves as a single point of contact (as called for in the Comprehensive Plan). Ideally, the CEDD could fulfill these roles.

Although the CEDD was a major point in her platform, and she has mentioned the need on several occasions since then, I don’t think the Mayor has made a strong enough argument for the position. A while back, she posted a draft job description for the CEDD on this blog. While this seems like a good starting point, there are a lot of details and specifics that need to be finalized (it’s a draft after all). If a final version exists, I’ve not seen it publicized.

Vague and generalized objectives will almost certainly result in vague and generalized results, which would be an absolute waste of money. Integral to Flippin’s Big A plan are a set of clearly defined goals, a method to assess progress, and the understanding that future funding is dependent on how well the goals have been met. I believe these concepts need to be integral to the CEDD as well in order to truly succeed and benefit our economy. I would think it would also go a long way in convincing those who may think that this is just another layer of useless bureaucracy.

The CEDD, if properly structured and staffed with a qualified, experienced person, could be our best hope at building a proactive, business friendly environment that competes well in today’s economy. I wish more groundwork had been laid for this idea earlier, as we now find ourselves with an overdue budget and little time left for hammering out details. If the line item is not approved this year, I think it is well worth pursuing for next year’s budget.

  1. Now that is part of our Charter that needs changing! Article XXII/C-150 describes the responsibilities of the Administrator of Community and Economic Development as it was created. This is inconsistent with the draft job description created by Mayor Thane. The latter is sort of a catch-all, Administrative Aide type job held by Thom Georgia until the Common Council put a stop to it.

    Local opinion, is that the funding is being put in place to return Thom Georgia to the paid beck and call of the Mayor. He is currently training for the position as the Mayor’s hand-picked Chairman of the Amsterdam Cultural Arts Center Advisory Board.

    There was no attempt to change the Charter adopting the new job description, just a push for funding the position. The validity of the Description and job as currently listed in our Charter is still debatable. The prior Corporation Council claims it was deleted from the Charter by Local Law and somehow found it’s way back in the Charter. To date no one from the current Council has weighed in on this issue, yet they voted to fund the Economic Development position in the budget.

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