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EDC seeks to ‘borrow’ county employee

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Paid by Jeffco, person would work with economic development group

By Ramsey Scott

The Jeffco Economic Development Corp. has officially launched its $3.9 million Forward Jeffco initiative to bring more businesses to the county — and with it came another new pitch to the Jeffco commissioners for more support.

The EDC, a nonprofit economic development organization headed by former county commissioner Kevin McCasky, wants a county employee assigned to work with the EDC and to act as a liaison between Jeffco and the business community. The employee would be trained by the EDC and work out of both the EDC's and the county's offices — and would receive full pay and benefits from the county.

"When we're done and we return that person to the county, that person will have a higher level of understanding and appreciation of how economic development and job retention and job creation is really undertaken in the private sector," said Fred Baker, chair of the EDC’s board of directors. "Being able to guide existing and new businesses through the county in their development and other related issues will give us a real leg up. We'll be the only ones in the metro Denver area that offers that capability." 

Earlier this year, the EDC asked the county to provide $100,000 for Forward Jeffco, in addition to the $300,000 Jeffco gives the group annually.

The five-year, $3.9 million Forward Jeffco plan has been billed as a proactive approach by the EDC to lure more businesses to the county by focusing on specific business sectors, such as aerospace and biotechnology.

The EDC has raised about $2 million from groups like MillerCoors, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Jeffco Public Schools and the cities of Lakewood and Arvada.

Commissioners seemed open to the employee-sharing idea at a June 11 meeting, while County Administrator Ralph Schell had questions about how the proposal would work.

While Commissioners Faye Griffin and Casey Tighe had balked at the request for an additional $100,000 earlier this year, the new proposal seemed to gain favor with Tighe last week. Tighe said he appreciated the EDC's creativity.

Griffin was absent during the discussion of the proposed shared employee.

"Recently, there is a business owner who’s been involved in this type of activity, and they said they were kind of intimidated in going through the process at the city level," Commissioner Don Rosier said. "I like the idea; I truly do. I liked the other proposal, but I think this is much better."

Eric Bergman, research supervisor for Colorado Counties Inc., said he was unaware of any other counties in Colorado that are sharing employees with a regional economic development organization.

Bergman said many counties work with businesses in traditional ways by cutting tax rates, providing incentives for businesses to relocate or creating business incubators.

"We've seen a lot of those kind of efforts where counties are very involved in trying to bring jobs and retain jobs," Bergman said. "We don't really track (specific plans like Jeffco's) necessarily."

Clarke Becker, director of the rural workforce consortium for the state Labor Department, also said he was unaware of any similar arrangements between counties and independent organizations. Baker said that while he didn't know the specifics of the Jeffco EDC's plan, it sounded like an idea with potential to improve job development.

"The continuity is important between local government and economic development. It's critical for the success on that," Becker said. "They have got to be on the same page and walk hand in hand."

Becker has experience working in public-private partnerships. While serving as executive director of Teller County's Economic Development Corp., he also was a planning commission member, city councilman, mayor and then a teller County commissioner.

But Becker said some troublesome issues could arise if the county were sharing an employee with the EDC, such as the Colorado Open Records Law.

Many businesses don’t want their expansion plans to be made public until a deal is finalized, Becker said. If a county employee is involved in the EDC's work, it could make those private conversations public record.

"If I'm a business and there's a risk of my business plans being put in the front page of the paper before I'm ready to roll that out, I'm not interested in your community. I'll go somewhere else," Becker said. "There needs to be confidence in the relationship between the county development private entity and the local government."

Meanwhile, Jeffco’s Schell said he didn't know if the county had an employee it could easily reassign to such a position.

"I don't understand the details. I'm not being critical of it," Schell said. "If we had staff who didn't have a lot to do, we shouldn't have that staff."

Rosier and Tighe agreed, and directed the county to work with the EDC on refining the proposal.

Along with sharing an employee, the EDC left the door open for seeking more funds from the county. Baker said that in the future the EDC might seek another $50,000 to $75,000 from the commissioners for a specific project.

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.