LB 840 (est. 1991)–The Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act authorizes incorporated cities and villages to collect and appropriate local tax dollars (sales and/or property tax) if approved by the local voters, for economic development purposes.
It doesn’t matter that the Thayer County Economic Development Alliance has brought in thousands of dollars in grants for investment in entrepreneurship for the county’s youth or even that it’s made the county’s housing development program a success. It also doesn’t matter that Thayer County’s population is dwindling leaving less people and businesses to pay dues or donate funding to economic development here at home. And it doesn’t matter that other cities and counties use LB840 money to finance economic development groups while most communities in Thayer County simply don’t. The fact is commissioners Lawrence Traudt, Dave Bruning and Chris Frye still gave a resounding “no” to TCEDA’s recent fund request.
“We didn’t feel comfortable making that kind of jump,” said Traudt, president of the Board of Commissioners. “TCEDA was requesting $40,000 a year.”
Last month, TCEDA president Rosemary Dageforde and director Arlis Hohl asked the commissioners to increase the group’s annual funding by $16,000, an amount earmarked to start a rapid response sector. Loss of membership from individuals, communities and businesses has stripped TCEDA coffers to the point where the group is struggling to carry out its goals.
“Obviously I’m disappointed,” Dageforde said following the meeting. “We brought in several sizeable grants to Thayer County; money used to develop a successful housing program, finance entrepreneurship, money that stays in the county, but the commissioners want to see more activity from us (TCEDA) with the businesses already here.”
Which is where the money should come from says the Board of Commissioners. Businesses, communities and individual donations are who finance economic development and TCEDA needs to reach out to them for additional funds; retaining business, assisting communities and keeping the county’s population here, would help that cause. “We also thought the group was kind of sitting back, not really addressing this issue,” Traudt said. “We felt they needed to move more toward business promotion and retention.”
Right now, the County gives $24,000 a year (plus a health insurance package) to retain a part-time economic developer (Hohl). The rest of TCEDA’s funding comes from membership dues and donations, which is where the problem lies; both have dwindled in recent years.
“To bring in a business, say for the cheese plant in Hebron, could take thousands of dollars by the time the business was here and ready to be open for production or sales,” Hohl explained last month after making the request. “Who is going to pay that expense? The County? Hebron? Local investors? Nobody realizes the cost of wooing these companies or helping someone start up, grow and expand to the extent of offering multiple jobs in the communities. We operate on a shoestring budget and hope to land a million dollar company with very little membership or volunteers who will donate to this kind of venture.”
But, the commissioners think if TCEDA actively shakes hands with businesses already here, membership will increase.
“Our plan was to do just that,” Dageforde said. “Our focus has shifted from the housing and entrepreneurship programs to business promotion and retention.”
During the Wednesday meeting, TCEDA did indeed announce its priority goals as business recruitment, retention, and expansion with the additional money from the commissioners earmarked for rapid response. Chris Tonniges, a newcomer to TCEDA, planned to head up the committee. “As soon as we hear of someone’s interest in Thayer County, we need to be able to make a move,” Tonniges said. “We need to be able to make them offers, show them what we have and focus on the future.”
Traudt said there was never any dispute that TCEDA created successful housing and entrepreneurship programs and that the group presented a very good retention and recruitment plan Wednesday morning which is what the commissioners were most interested in seeing even though they didn’t grant the extra funding. “It’s not to say we won’t ever give them more,” he said. “We just thought they needed to move in a different direction and it sounds like they are going to.”