Carroll's short-sighted strategy

August 11, 1992

Carroll County's commissioners may know how to save a dime, but it may, in the end, cost them more than a dollar. They have decided to save $47,240 by not filling the vacancy created when James C. Threatte resigned as economic development director. Instead, the three commissioners, led by Donald Dell, will make an economic development staffer, William E. Jenne, "manager" of the office and have him report to Robert A. "Max" Bair Jr., executive assistant to the commissioners. This jury-rigged structure is fraught with problems.

The county's small three-member development staff is a capable group. So is Mr. Bair, who worked with development issues before taking his current position. But they are not likely to work as effectively as would a single economic development director. Instead of streamlining the development process, the new arrangement will complicate it. Mr. Jenne won't have the same authority Mr. Threatte did. Mr. Bair, who is already spread fairly thin, will not be able to devote large amounts of time to development efforts.

The commissioners' action is more puzzling in light of their decision to finance Commissioner Julia W. Gouge's study of economic development at the University of Oklahoma. This year, the county will pay $550 to cover her registration costs. Taxpayers have already shelled out about $3,000 for previous sessions of her three-year study program. The county benefits when a commissioner is knowledgeable about development, but attracting new business and caring for existing business is not her sole duty.

While there is no obvious linkage between economic development expenditures and subsequent economic growth, it makes sense to spend a little more rather than a little less. The county's economic development budget is modest -- $439,750 for the current fiscal year. Commissioners are saving more than 10 percent of the budget by not paying a director, but nobody knows how many potential jobs will be lost. If one business with a payroll of several million dollars moves out of the county or locates in a metropolitan jurisdiction with a more coherent economic development effort, the savings will be wiped out.

County commissioners hired Mr. Threatte three years ago with the intention of professionalizing Carroll's economic development effort. They wanted to debunk the conventional wisdom that Carroll County was not hospitable to commercial development. By leaving the director's position vacant, the commissioners are reversing their previous position and implicitly stating the county is no longer interested in development. Perhaps that was their intention all along.

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