Friday, August 22, 2014
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Lincoln and Logan County Development Partnership invitation draws interest from all corners of the county

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[August 22, 2014]  LINCOLN - Nearly three dozen people from various governing bodies and economic interest groups gathered together on Thursday for a light lunch and a discussion of Logan County’s economic development. The Lincoln and Logan County Development Partnership extended the invitations.

The Logan County Board's Executive/Economic Development Committee called a special meeting for that group to attend as a whole.

Last month, the Logan County Board and the Lincoln and Logan County Development Partnership each opted out of the formation of a joint unified organization that is being joined by the Lincoln and Logan County Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Lincoln, Logan County Tourism Bureau, and the city of Lincoln.

Both groups would like to find new ways to contribute to the county’s economy.

Bob Pharis of the Development Partnership started the meeting by thanking Bill Thomas, the interim director of the Partnership for providing lunch.

Pharis then informed anyone who did not already know that Logan County and the Partnership voted not to join the UOC.

“It was a very good idea that was brought up. Hire one director for the five groups, and it certainly made a lot of sense,” said Pharis. Pharis said that the groups hired a facilitator twice to answer their questions on how to proceed. “The biggest thing I had against it was when they put in the Chamber,” said Pharis, who was not sure the Chamber would mix well due to tax funds. The formation would mix taxing bodies (governments) with a non-government funded group, the Chamber.

Pharis said that any effort made by the county to improve the economy needs to involve the entire county, "We need the whole community. I'm talking about Latham. I'm talking about San Jose. I'm talking about Beason." He commented that here are seventeen townships, some that are not part of a village or any town. “When I talk county, I’m talking everybody,” said Pharis.

“I feel the county board needs to be a check and balance. You [addressing county board members] are a board that represents the entire community,” he said.

Pharis said that Thomas has agreed to stay on for the rest of the current year, and he is confident that Thomas will stay for the near future.

Thomas explained that there are programs in place that can help the smaller townships in Logan County because of their inclusion in a Regional Economic Development District. Logan County's Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) is a joint effort with five counties.

CEDS is a plan to strengthen or create infrastructure that would enhance or attract economic growth for an area. Having a project in a CEDS plan aids toward the possibility of acquiring federal grants and assistance.

The city of Lincoln and Logan County governments both contributed $3500 toward the annual fees for the county's CEDS this year.

“If you want to stand a chance to get any federal assistance for any major projects, the federal government looks upon regional organization more favorably these days than it does on localized organization,” said Thomas. Thomas added that a township can apply directly for federal aide, but it is more difficult without the assistance of a CEDS group. “There is tremendous competition for these monies.”

Thomas said in the last eighteen months, Logan County, because of its participation in CEDS, has been part of the Supply Chain Project. This project was a federal project that allowed consultants to work with local manufacturers in an effort to encourage local networking between the companies. Logan County also received a grant to conduct six business retention visits, which allowed for businesses in the county to receive free consultations on retention strategies.

Thomas said that in October, the document that is utilized for determining which projects can apply for aide will be revised, and Thomas welcomes input from the smaller townships in making those revisions.


Thomas said that in addition to CEDS, he personally has some experience with writing grants, and can network with other people who can be experts on behalf of the county. He did also caution that getting grants through CEDS is a slim chance. But there are other benefits to participation.

Chuck Ruben said that the county joined a CEDS group after Sysco came to Logan County, as they were advised by state representatives that being part of such a group would have made acquiring the land much easier.

David Hepler asked what the Partnership's budget looks like for this year?

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Thomas said that funding for this year, which came from the County Board, the city of Lincoln, business contributions and fundraisers, totals at $100,000. The future budget is under review and there are lots of cuts being looked at, including possibly moving to another office.

Next year, the city of Lincoln has $81,000 budgeted for all economic interests. $60,000 is budgeted for the combined organization leaving $21,000 for other economic support purposes such as CEDS and Regional Planning Commission.

Thomas also reiterated that economic development takes time and a commitment. “There are good ideas in the Master Plan, and it takes time, commitment, and a lot of hard work that some people don’t understand in terms of networking and reaching out to folks to get things accomplished,” said Thomas. “It boils down to a group of people who are willing to sit down and do something,” he said.

“I’m going to critique the current EDP board that we have and say that it’s not active enough,” said Thomas. “Members of a board need to work and be responsible.”

Gene Rohlfs asked if any of the communities in Logan County have made any movements towards economic development since the UOC discussions began. Thomas said that the city of Atlanta voted on Wednesday night to create an economic development commission focusing on the town. “We needed a group of people paying attention to economic development, and any city that wants to can set up its own commission. I would love to talk to any other town that wants to look at our ordinance and see if it would work for them,” said Thomas.

Doug Muck, a member of the Partnership board, said that he envisioned the role of the EDP to function as a facilitator. “We want to assist the various entities in the county to help them be successful,” said Muck. “I do not see us as being competitive in any way, merely to be facilitators and to have someone like Bill to point us to the right people. In other words, we are a resource.”

Jim Fuhrer said that the town of Mount Pulaski is getting ready to begin discussing similar ideas, but there is a concern over funding and a tight budget. “That’s the predicament we’re in,” said Fuhrer.

Alderwoman Cathy Horn said she hopes the city of Lincoln would still wish to become part of any new economic venture created in the future. Horn added that the Chamber is recognized by outside groups and businesses, which may help to bring new businesses into the picture. “People that don’t have their home offices here; ours [Kroger’s] is in Indiana, and they recognize the Chamber of Commerce. That’s one of the reasons I went along with it,” said Horn.

“It’s going to take financial support from everyone, and I realize that money is tight,” said Pharis. Pharis said that there will be some money left at the end of the current fiscal year, and the Partnership needs to determine how much money the other entities and townships can provide for any new economic venture.

“This is something everybody needs to be involved in,” said Pharis. “The idea of having this meeting was to bring people in so they can see what is happening and what has been done. It’s going to take some serious dollars to do this.”

Pharis reiterated that he wants to see everyone in the county working together. “I know there is a split right now, but I’m hoping we can keep the Partnership board together, and keep the County Board working towards economic development and draw everybody in, including Lincoln, down the road,” said Pharis.

“Some of the biggest projects can affect the smallest communities,” added Hepler.

Pharis said that townships in unincorporated areas that are not represented by a community could benefit by participation. He would particularly like to see some of the township road commissioners join the group. Many of those areas such as Prairie Creek, Corwin and Laenna Townships, and the village of Latham, Chestnut, Beason and Emden were represented at the meeting and expressed possible future interest.

[By DEREK HURLEYm with contributions by JAN YOUNGQUIST]

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