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How can city truly get down to business?

Answer could involve change in key panels

May 24, 2011

Franklin - The future of the city's approach to economic development hangs in the balance as myriad ideas have surfaced in three plans that will be considered at the June 6 Committee of the Whole and the June 7 Common Council.

At the heart of the issue is whether the Economic Development Commission will be abolished and reorganized as a Forward Franklin Development Committee under the Community Development Authority or re-established and strengthened through improved member qualifications and job duties.

Established as a 12-member commission to promote and enhance the city's image in pursuing commercial and industrial development, the EDC has, through vacancy and resignation, shrunk to four active members. The CDA is a seven-member body that has transacted financing for the community's business parks and operates under the Federal Housing and Community Development Act of 1974.

The mayor and Common Council appoint and confirm both economic panels.

"We need to streamline how we do economic development and make it a well-oiled machine," said Alderman Steve Taylor, who along with City Attorney Jesse Wesolowski co-authored the Forward Franklin resolution. "Businesses who are interested in locating in Franklin want to deal more directly with the mayor. They can't do that as fast as they want to with the way this is set up now."

The resolution calls for a seven-member body, including one alderman, that will report to and work more closely with the CDA.

In response to the resolution, two members of the EDC - Alderman Steve Olson and resident-appointee Joe Haselow - drafted a plan that allows up to 12 members who have "passion" as well as a "profile of relevant skills" who will proactively develop and respond to economic opportunities.

Haselow, acting as the EDC chair, said he believes the current commission should be retained to ensure a wider participation and communication flow and should have properly skilled members.

"The most important aspect of this issue, in my mind, is to select the right members who can bring added value to the commission," said Haselow, who has a professional background in finance and accounting. "None of us on the commission, including me, may be the right people to continue. I just want the mayor and other elected officials to fill the vacancies with qualified people. We need people who can work with business opportunities and develop leads. We need a commission that knows all the aspects of economic development."

Haselow characterized the Forward Franklin Committee plan as being "too consolidated" to a small group of people and not providing wider communication. He favors more ground-level involvement in which some economic development possibilities can be brought up from EDC members through aldermen before reaching a more formal process.

"It doesn't mean some of those possibilities can't be brought directly to the mayor or member of the council," he said. "This is just providing another means."

Olson also pointed to the issue of marketing. He said there has not been an appropriate marketing budget.

"We need to get money for marketing," he said. "I believe that should be the first step."

The third economic development resolution, authored by Alderman Doug Schmidt, also cuts the commission to seven members and consolidates some of the same Forward Franklin elements but does not place it under the CDA. Schmidt was not available for comment.

Haselow said he looks forward to the June 6 and 7 meetings.

"I am very interested in seeing what the Common Council will do with this and where it will all go," Haselow said. "It will be very telling."

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