In June, the Great Bend City council voted to terminate its Agreement for Services with the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce for economic development activities and explore other possible options for addressing economic development. Since that time, a mayoral committee has been meeting with representatives appointed by the chamber to discuss restructuring the program.
The process comes full circle Tuesday night as the committee make its recommendation to the full council for action. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 1209 Williams.
It was on June 17 they approved ending the contract with the commerce with the impetus being the city wanting more oversight on economic development work. That’s when both parties began working on ways to restructure the city’s economic development efforts.
In a statement released by the city prior to the June meeting, the committee proposed ending the contract and hiring a full-time employee to coordinate economic development. The statement noted the committee met on five separate occasions, including once with members of the chamber Executive Committee.
This new city position would be held in direct oversight by an executive committee comprised of members of the city’s governing body as well as representation from the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce.
Mayor Joe Andrasek appointed a five-person committee on May 6 that included himself and council members Jolene Biggs, Cory Urban, Dana Dawson and Chad Somers; however, Somers has since resigned from the city council. The committee’s goal was to analyze the method by which the City conducts its economic development activities.
At the June 3 meeting, the council was set to act on a committee recommendation, but opted instead to table the matter until the meeting this week. The action was in response to pleas to reconsider its actions by Great Bend Chamber of Commerce Board members who attended the meeting in force.
The Chamber Board’s concerns were based on the fact the it was not in the loop on the recommended changes and felt the chamber had been left out of the discussions.
In December, the city and the chamber approved a revamped contract for economic development services to, in part, improve communication with the chamber and require more accountability for eco devo efforts. The old contract was drafted in 1999 when the city first contracted with the chamber and had not been changed since.
Technically, the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce is the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development; the latter part is funded through a contract with the City of Great Bend.
The arrangement allowed the chamber to administer the economic development on the city’s behalf. This involves business recruitment and retention, and workforce development.
Economic development receives $153,000 this year through the general fund, with payments being made semi-annually. That is up from $135,000 in 2017 and 2018.
Chamber makes an annual funding request and it is up to the council to decide what will be budgeted. This year, the chamber also sought $50,000 to fund a study (which would have raised the total to $203,000), but that was not granted.
This involves business recruitment and retention, and workforce development and involves what amounts to about a third of the chamber’s annual budget.
The money for the chamber is funded via a city half-cent sales tax (generating 9 percent of the city’s revenue). The tax is split three ways among economic development, infrastructure improvements and property tax relief.
In all, the economic development slice of this pie is anticipated to generate $370,000 in 2019, up from $350,000 in the last two years. This also funds a portion of Community Coordinator Christina Hayes’ department with the remaining balance transferred into an economic development fund.
But. the city needed to “shore up” the details and better clarify the city’s and the council’s expectations. The council also wanted more communication, accountability and transparency.
The contract outlined some concrete goals that could be set. Among these could be a business incentive program, a plan on how to use economic development funds (recruiting or retaining businesses are possibilities), following through on monthly reports, and documenting and listing empty buildings.
It goes beyond talking to prospects, and there needed to be a greater level of detail. However, there are aspects of business recruitment that have to remain confidential.
The contract automatically renewed on Jan. 1. So when the council gave Francis the green light in September, it allowed the city to give the chamber the requisite 90-day notice that it wanted changes.
Jan Peters, who serves as president and chief executive officer of both the chamber and economic development, was also on board.
Also on the City Council agenda Tuesday night are:
• Zoological Society update from Karen Neuforth.
• An ordinance specifying when newly elected city officials take office.
• A collapsed manhole on 18th Street near Baker Street.
• An executive session to discuss economic development business retention and expansion.