The Council worksession tomorrow night has only two items on the agenda: One item is the EDA’s 2011 budget and workplan; the other is the City’s 2011 budget. The agenda allots 60 minutes for each topic, but I doubt I’ll get to bed early.
Much of the EDA’s 2010 Workplan is general blather about economic development not linked to any particular initiative the EDA has undertaken. I doubt it was intended to be used this way, but let’s use the general introduction about defining economic development to evaluate what our own EDA has been doing lately.
Economic development, says the intro, typically focuses on policies and programs in these areas:
- Government policies with broad economic objectives including employment, healthcare, sustainable growth, and inflation control (which means expanding the economic base to allow levy rates for the cost of government services to remain stable)
- Infrastructure policies and programs that provide services such as basic infrastructure transportation, sewer, water, power, etc. but also what we might call social/cultural infrastructure such as recreation, parks, trails, arts (and I’d add, libraries).
- Business climate policies and programs which are probably what most people think of as economic development – specific efforts toward business financiing, marketing, business retention and expansion, and real estate development.
As far as I can tell, the Northfield EDA has focused exclusively on the last one with the business park master plan being the Big Project of 2010 (schedules to be reviewed by the Council in late November) and this has taken place with little discussion of the fiscal impact on the city.
What else could the City and EDA be doing from the first 2 areas?
1. Government policies: We need to answer some basic policy questions which will help drive other, more specific government action. Here are some that come to mind:
- what is the role of the city/EDA in economic development and what is the role of private organizations?
- What proportion of city resources should be devoted to economic development? What amount should we ask taxpayers to pay (we need to adopt a final EDA levy in December – the preliminary levy adopted in September is $248,952)
- what proportion should go to direct aid to businesses and how much invested in the substructure which supports all economic activity like roads, broadband, public safety, cultural institutions, etc.?
- How will we evaluate the costs and benefits – the impact – of specific economic development projects? What is an acceptable rate of return on taxpayers’ investment?
- Given the goals of the city and the Comprehensive Plan, how will resources be allocated toward infill and redevelopment vs. new, greenfield development?
2. Infrastructure: I’d like to broaden what counts as economic development in Northfield and this policy area is where it happens. Though not as obvious or focused as a business park, ensuring that Northfield has a safe, well-maintained, efficient transportation network, excellent public safety, a thriving downtown, a range of housing choices, excellent healthcare and schools, community events and activities, and two fine colleges helps attract and retain businesses, boosts property values, and makes Northfield a very desirable place to live and work. Given the City’s infrastructure and facilities needs, I’d like to see some serious consideration here. For a checklist approach, take a look at Community economic development preparedness index developed by the University of Wisconsin for the kinds of things cities should consider.