Grow Licking County

            Grow Licking County was a large part of the news this past week. It is a CIC and past blog posts have covered it along with JobsOhio (the state public/private partnership for economic development) and Newark Development Partners Community Improvement Corporation (the City of Newark’s private/public foray). Joe Williams reports in the 4-30-13 Advocate that Grow Licking County, begun in 2012 with a 3 year run is asking for additional funding from the county in the form of an increase in the property conveyance fee of a dollar per thousand generating an additional 400K in revenue. “The money would provide “relatively stable financing for economic development activities, marketing outreach and coordination,” said Dan Evers, economic development director for Grow Licking County. It could fund print and direct-mail marketing initiatives, and visits to prospective industries and trade shows, Evers said.” Last year’s budget for this corporation was approximately $245,000. It is not clear how much is for the final two years (and beyond). In a 5-2-13 article, Williams reportsIn making their presentation to the commissioners, CIC representatives budgeted $400,000 annually from the proposed increase, taking the fluctuation in annual real estate sales into consideration. Hottinger told the panel Wednesday that if it approves the conveyance fee increase, she would not expect all CIC contributors to continue pledging at their current rate, which was intended to cover start-up costs.” Mrs. Hottinger is President of the Licking County Chamber of Commerce and vice chairperson of Grow Licking County. She is also secretary of Newark Development Partners Community Improvement Corporation; one person, three hats. This is where it all gets somewhat convoluted and complicated. The 4-30 Advocate article quotes her as saying ““If we would lose all of our funders, a 50-cent increase would only get us to where we are now,” Hottinger said. “We wouldn’t be ahead of the game.”” And then: ““We need to have some creative ways to beat our competition, and right now we don’t have a lot of those,” Hottinger said.” Bear in mind that Commissioner Tim Bubb is also the chairperson of Grow Licking County. If two thirds of the commissioners are needed to pass the fee increase, he represents 50% of that vote. Essentially, he is asking himself whether he wants something that he is asking for. Not a hard question to answer. Mrs. Hottinger may be correct in her assessment of the entire process being a game.

            But wait, it gets even more convoluted and byzantine. The past week’s Advocates showed pictures of the commissioners and architects looking over plans for the demolition of the Children’s Home. Commissioner Doug Smith would like some of the revenue raised from any new fee increases to fund the county engineer’s (William Lozier’s) road work. In the case of the Children’s Home, or any road/ bridge work, the public would have a right to look at whatever contracts have been entered into, what the actual costs are, and the ultimate outcomes. Grow Licking County was modeled on JobsOhio with its initial start-up being funded by private AND public moneys. Now, like JobsOhio, Grow Licking County wants to budget its activity off a publicly provided revenue stream yet maintain its privilege of being administered privately (the Chamber is a private business enterprise). Sensing this, ““The CIC is a public/private partnership, and because we have public money, that opens us to the Sunshine Law,” said Cheri Hottinger, vice chairman of the CIC and president of the Newark Area Chamber of Commerce. “We knew that going in. Everything is open. Our meetings are open. The conveyance fee doesn’t change that.”” (5-2-13 Joe Williams Advocate article). This blog writer never received any response from Mr. Evers re: 2 requests concerning Grow Licking County, or Mrs. Hottinger on repeated requests re: Newark Development Partners Community Improvement Corporation.

            In an article entitled “Blistering audit faults Wis. job creation agency Blistering audit says Walker’s job-creation agency broke the law, awarded money improperly” Scott Bauer of the Associated Press (5-2-13) writes that something certainly was rotten in Denmark with Scott Walkers centerpiece jobs program. “This is the third audit that has examined WEDC’s operations. The first two were ordered by WEDC and completed last year. One of those audits was done by accounting firm Schenck SC. The Audit Bureau discovered that while Schenck was working on that audit, it was also representing a firm and negotiated a financial award with WEDC. The Audit Bureau said WEDC awarded the firm represented by Schenck $1.1 million in tax credits and a $300,000 grant.” Different hats on the same folks! “Employees of the public-private entity also made unexplained purchases of University of Wisconsin football season tickets, alcohol and iTunes gift cards, the far-reaching audit [by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau] of the nearly two-year-old Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. found.” “”This audit shows there is a significant disconnect between our expectations of WEDC and the reality of their performance with regard to transparency and accountability,” said Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, co-chair of the Legislature’s Audit Committee.” JobsOhio was modeled on the (at the time) forward looking WEDC (and Grow Licking County on JobsOhio). In light of this, it becomes truly difficult to assess the performance of a public/private partnership where the same folks who are administering the program are also assessing their use of the public funding. Grow Licking County champions new job development (hence “Grow” Licking County). Dan Horn writing for the Cincinnatti Enquirer (5-2-13) reports that his research reveals that 9 times as many jobs were created from pre-existing businesses in Ohio rather than new ones (start-ups or ones lured from outside Ohio) through  JobsOhio. Perhaps our CIC should be named “Sustain Licking County”! In the 5-5-13 Newark Advocate article “Licking County building industry finally joins recovery Commercial projects leading the way in first quarter” Kent Mallet reports that Etna township led the way with close to $34 million in new construction. The City of Newark showed $880,000. Newark, the county seat of Licking County, is where more than 25% of the population resides. Given the in house, discretionary and proprietary handling of internal activity by the CIC’s, it is very difficult to assess how much of any or all of this reflects CIC performance or accomplishment. Like grocery store shelf space filled with what look like diverse products yet all from a single company, the same folks are popping up wearing the different hats within these various public/private partnerships. As Mrs. Hottinger puts it “We need to have some creative ways to beat our competition, and right now we don’t have a lot of those,” Just who is she competing with?

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