This month: Systematic approach to eco-devo planning pays dividends
Partnering for Impact
Effective economic development requires planning, foresight
Local Government Assistance
Region 1 – Bob Ashton
Bob Ashton is the Comptroller’s representative for the 43 counties in the High Plains and Panhandle region and also serves as the project leader for the Comptroller’s Transparency Check-Up, which lists Texas local government entities and the financial documents they post online.
He has extensive experience in work force and economic development.
Key issues facing the region include low commodity prices for oil and gas, dairy and animal products, which affect incomes and local property values and reduce revenues to local governments. Preserving limited water and other natural resources is a continuing challenge in this arid region. The recent development of alternative energy projects, such as solar and wind farms, has offered an alternative revenue source for some property owners and local taxing entities.
The Comptroller’s office offers technical assistance to local governments for a wide variety of programs to foster economic development including property tax abatements, appraised value limitations for school districts and sales tax for economic development.
Since 1989, more than 650 Texas cities have adopted a sales tax to promote economic development in their communities.
However, few cities carry out significant planning to determine what types of projects are financially viable to businesses and desirable to residents of their cities; nor do they develop the procedures necessary to assure suitable projects are recruited.
Canyon, a city in the Panhandle with about 15,000 residents, took a systematic approach to economic development planning in 2006. Two years after adopting the tax, city leaders brought in a facilitator and a cross-section of citizens and business leaders to create a vision for the city’s future, prioritize development goals and provide a road map for economic development. The result was a ranked list of economic priorities for the city over the next five years and recommendations for achieving those objectives. Encouraging retail and tourism was the key priority identified.
Evelyn Ecker, Canyon Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) director, was not surprised at the priorities that rose to the top of the list.
“At the time, Canyon residents had few retail choices and often drove to Amarillo to shop,” says Ecker. Increasing tourism to nearby Palo Duro Canyon was another priority.
Developing procedures for handling economic development prospects has also been important to Canyon’s success. Now, the CEDC has a well-developed Web site with vital information about the community and an application to request financial assistance. The Canyon EDC Web site helps a business determine if Canyon is a potential site for its relocation or expansion, while the required application gives the CEDC information it needs to make an initial determination whether a business meets the city’s criteria for financial assistance. Another key to Canyon’s success is how well Ecker coordinates her efforts with the CEDC board of directors and the city council over several steps:
- meets informally with the CEDC president to get his opinion of a project;
- presents the project to the full board of directors in executive session for their consideration as authorized by the Texas Government Code, followed by a public vote in regular session;
- presents the project to the city council in executive session for their consideration as authorized by the Government Code, followed by a vote in regular session;
- If the project receives majority support from both the board of directors and city council, Ecker schedules the required public hearing.
Although state law authorizes projects to be funded 60 days after the posting date of the notice of the public hearing, Ecker informs prospects that the process may take up to 90 days to allow for potential project changes that may result from the hearing process and sufficient time to draft the required performance agreement. TR