GHENT–Following a recommendation by its Economic Development Committee the county Board of Supervisors appears ready to resume funding the Columbia Economic Development Corporation.
County payments that support the operations of the not-for-profit Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) were suspended earlier this year after a state watchdog agency, the Authorities Budget Office, produced a report that found some members of the CEDC board had potential conflicts of interest related to the expansion project of the Ginsberg’s wholesale food company. The president of the CEDC board, David Crawford, one of the people mentioned in the state report, subsequently resigned. He was replaced in September by Tony Jones, who had recently returned to the CEDC board, having previously served on the board.
A draft of the new contract between the Board of Supervisors and CEDC posted on the CEDC website, www.columbiaedc.com , calls for the county to pay the CEDC $327,750 before the end of this year and $437,000 in installments in 2016.
The county committee and the interim executive director of the CEDC, Michael Tucker have been discussing the resumption of funding since at last summer. Mr. Tucker, who was hired to help rebuild trust in the CEDC, told committee members in August that the CEDC would run out of money to operate in 16 months without county support.
Ghent resident Patti Matheny, who filed the complaint that led to the state investigation of the CEDC, declined this week to comment on the contract. But Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin (D), a member of the Board of Supervisors’ Economic Development Committee, said Tuesday, November 17 that the steps taken by Mr. Jones and Mr. Tucker had “changed the tone of the conversation” concerning CEDC and that the board seemed likely to adopt the new contract.
The prospect of restored funding from the county buoyed the CEDC membership meeting last week chaired by Mr. Jones. He introduced what he called a “reinvigorated” agency, complete with a new slogan for the CEDC: “Choose Columbia… For Business. For life.”
Among the substantive changes are new bylaws intended to prevent apparent conflicts of interest that dogged the CEDC under its previous leadership.
The banquet room at Kozel’s restaurant in West Ghent was filled with government officials and local business leaders Tuesday, November 10, who came to hear progress reports from Mr. Jones and Mr. Tucker, the interim executive director. In his brief remarks Mr. Tucker emphasized the importance the CEDC places on helping support small businesses as well as large ones and he reminded the audience that the CEDC services the federal Small Business Administration’s loan program in both Columbia and Greene counties.
He also urged the public to weigh in on the proposed new CEDC strategic plan, which is required as part of the new contract with the county. He said the plan is meant to be “dynamic” and he said he hopes it will be finished within the next three months.
Turning to the primary function of the organization, he said that the county’s approach to economic development must look to improve housing and healthcare, adding that it is one of the CEDC’s goals “to advance the quality of life for everyone in Columbia County.”
Among other goals, the CEDC aims to expand its membership and Marketing Director Carol Wilber outlined some of the steps the CEDC is taking attract more paid members with different levels of participation, which include discounts for members of the county Chamber of Commerce.
And lawyer Andrew Howard reviewed the new bylaws, saying the new version was the first comprehensive review of the CEDC’s rules since the 1980s. The bylaws spell out the steps required to prevent conflicts of interest as well as the responsibility of the board to conduct its business in a transparent manner. The bylaws, which have been posted on the CEDC and county websites for some time, were adopted at the meeting by a voice vote with no dissent.
“This sets us up for a productive future,” Mr. Jones said after the vote. But he said the board is still seeking three new members to fill empty seats. He said that a new permanent president would be in place by June of this year.
State officials Arnie Will, interim director of Empire State Development, and Katheryn Bamberger, who handles international trade investment for the Northeastern Region of the state, also addressed the gathering. Mr. Will, who emphasized the importance of the “creative economy” in Columbia County, told the audience that “economic development doesn’t happen one day a year,” and urged listeners to contact his agency if they have ideas or an issue.
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