Other Voices l Developing Economic Diversity | Columnists

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“County Charts New Economic Course” (Chronicle, February 9) identifies several issues I encountered before moving to Homosassa. I previously lived in a town in southwest Florida and was a member of the business community and economic development committee. As with Citrus County, we were trying to improve jobs and diversify our economy. The original committee was similar to what is proposed but with some differences,

The council member was a non-voting member of the committee. This was done to ensure that a vote by the committee was separate from the city commission. It also allowed for the independence of the city commissioner once a city funding proposal was presented or to prevent a potential violation of Florida Sunshine laws.

We found that the state college and technical college needed a representative as we needed their support for both skills and operations training.

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We found that we needed to focus on four to six locations in the city to favor different types of industries or businesses for zoning and minimize opposition from local residents to the presence of these businesses in or near the zones. residential that created political fights or generated delays. Land use and zoning have become essential to minimize the time needed to build, train and support businesses.

Manufacturing was of course a major factor since it is one of the highest paying industries and creates various indirect jobs. But we looked at what was needed and found that most businesses didn’t want to enter a city without trained staff and support businesses. This meant that we had to develop warehousing and supply chain businesses that could source parts, store materials, and purchase supplies and equipment needed by manufacturers. Warehousing and supply chain turned out to be the first step. The local technical college could establish training in truck drivers, forklifts, basic inventory control, and warehouse procedures. We determined what was needed. A foundation program and a way to move people from warehouse to state university to become supervisors and improve their skills. These skills included BOMs, scanning equipment, cycle counting, etc. Then college for computer skills, business and accounting knowledge as well as logistics management.

We asked small and medium manufacturers to identify the skills they needed and provide funds and equipment to train machinists and maintenance staff.

However, we were pushed back by the school board on the training because it would cost money and they believed the warehousing was automated so it was wasted skill training. This ended up stopping the training, whereas, we determined that these skills were needed now and by setting up future extension programs, we could train people to be maintenance personnel for robotics, improve skills for existing systems and have future programs in IT inventory management, logistics and storage and movement of semi-trailers and containers.

Another problem is the quality of roads and highways to move materials quickly. The new Sunshine Parkway addresses this in Citrus County where cheaper warehouses can be located here and trucking north and south can be shifted quickly as the population grows and moves north into Citrus County. Levy and beyond.

We had the support of the city commission, but almost everything we worked on was stopped due to opposition from some local residents. They didn’t want industry in their neighborhood, so they elected a new city commission that believed that retired seniors were more important and were losing their support for economic development, except for things seniors would want , such as restaurants and tourism items, not industry.

We’ve also found impact fees to be a major issue for some businesses. We asked several large developers to widen a main street to Interstate 75 by having them build the road and gave them credit for building the road five to seven years before the FDOT provided a funding and we waived impact fees on new homes and commercial buildings that got the road widened more cheaply than if we had waited and eliminated major traffic issues.

There were other potential programs such as working with college and technical college to get a culinary arts program and a hotel management program with a restaurant and hotel run by students and teachers and corporate managers professional hoteliers to enhance the hospitality science experience and create new restaurant entrepreneurs. . A large hotel company was very interested but unfortunately failed.

Finally, we determined that the impact fee reduction would be given to companies that would build where we already had utilities: electricity, water and sewer, cable, and roads completed. Thus, getting businesses to build in our city rather than other locations and reducing the amount of utility work needed to meet commercial and residential requirements, even though developers have had to put utilities in place for their residential developments. It wasn’t new, we stole the idea from another county but why reinvent the wheel when you can improve it.

Unfortunately, we didn’t learn some of the lessons early enough. We had a town commissioner who came from the ‘rust belt’ and didn’t like the idea of ​​the industry coming up, but wanted more of a retirement community. She didn’t believe modern manufacturing was clean. She helped a group of residents elect two new City Commissioners and all of our hard work went away. Several companies that were considering moving to the city or expanding their facilities were told by these commissioners that they did not want this type of business or tried to say where and how the companies would do business.

Fortunately, some of the ideas were partially implemented, but the Economic Development Committee was restructured by the majority of “not in my backyard” commissioners and focused on environmental and social issues.

There are a number of other initiatives and areas that could be discussed, but this is just the start. The key is to have visionary and practical people on the committee. Not just business and politicians, although they are important, college and VoTech specialists, people with legal and accounting skills and some members of homeowners associations or at least added to various discussions without being part of the members for insight after an initial idea is proposed. A wide range of knowledge to improve the overall perspective and to consider the pros and cons early in the discussion, minimizes failure by focusing on the items with the greatest overall support.

If the Citrus County Commission does not fully embrace economic development and is unwilling to provide funding and approve a plan with 1, 5 and 10 year milestones and commitments, this current commission push will not survive.

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