The Archuleta Economic Development Association — what is it, what has it done, what to do with it? These are questions faced by members of the AEDA as well as by town and county officials. And they are questions asked in difficult times in Pagosa Country, times when economic progress is critical.
A meeting was held this week involving board members of the AEDA, the town council and the board of county commissioners (see the story on Page 1). Both public bodies are considering continued funding for the AEDA. It quickly became apparent to many in attendance that the situation is backlit by a great deal of ambiguity.
Just what is the mission of the AEDA? This is, after all, an organization that hosted classes on how to create a business plan and that, apparently, does not have a business plan of its own. In fact, a committee was formed at this week’s meeting to spur development of same, as well as a strategic plan for the organization. So, what is the mission of the AEDA? It has changed over the years, but into what? At this point … who knows?
Another question lurks in the wings, demanding an answer: Why should taxpayer money be spent on such a seemingly ill-defined enterprise?
We have to wonder: In the years since public funding became critical to the AEDA, what have the taxpayers received for their dollars?
As far as we can see … not much.
Pursuing this thought, we wonder why local taxpayer dollars should be spent in this way at all? What is the role of small government in economic development — governments without the large budgets of their big cousins, unable to fund an in-house department of economic development? Perhaps they can offer incentives, and town and county have done just that. However, the effectiveness of fee waivers put in place by town and county can’t really be gauged: circumstances conspire against them at present. If there is no development, there are no fees to be waived.
Other than this, what else?
We believe the best use of taxpayer money is to ensure as much as possible that the local environment is ready for business, i.e. ensure infrastructure is in place (elements such as sewage treatment plants, roads, trails, parks, etc.) and that services such as law enforcement, fire protection, planning departments and processes, etc. operate as efficiently and in as customer-friendly a manner as possible. An idea is looming concerning local participation in a regional intergovernmental push to bring the telecommunications system up to snuff. This type of thinking and expense, along with basic infrastructure and service development, provides the seed bed in which the private sector can grow, as the market demands.
A recent study revealed (at exorbitant cost) that some of the primary reasons so-called “Lone Eagles” and “High Flyers” relocate their businesses here are serendipity, quality of life and low cost. Lodger’s Tax dollars already go to the Town Tourism Council and the County Tourism Council to promote these attributes as far and wide as possible. What does that leave to the AEDA?
Classes in how to write a business plan?
We are of the opinion the AEDA should be jettisoned in favor of a more effective organization and, if not dissolved, it should be radically reformed. A much closer look should be given to a Community Development Corporation or Council —a self-sustaining organization with a different non-profit standing, allowing it to be funded by grants and investment. Such an organization could, among other things, act as a conduit for loans targeted to economic development as well as for funding of numerous essential community elements and services tied to the economic health and growth of Pagosa Country.
We can’t throw good money after bad. Our economy needs help. We need an effective way to deal with the situation.