Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen met with the Manchester Economic and Community Development Commission board members during the work session Tuesday, Nov. 5, to discuss the newly minted commission’s goals and objectives.
The ECD, created by BOMA in September, approached the board for clarification on its role, authority and direction in improving economic growth, mainly retail, in Manchester.
Using Clarksville’s counterpart as an example, Alderman Ryan French suggested the ECD combine all the available data from agencies like local industrial boards and chambers of commerce into a streamlined product that can be “marketed” to interested businesses, in essence form a clearinghouse of data that could be a point of contact for prospective businesses.
“Even taking in account beatification — everyone knows we want to see things cleaned up. That creates a more prosperous economic climate. (Tullahoma’s ECD) has even looked into sign enhancement grants...,” he added.
City Attorney Gerald Ewell said that ECD has the authority to issue tax incentives like grants, commercial loans, awarding taxes increment finances and pilot programs that would give money for infrastructure improvements that might include local private land owners with public-access parking lots.
Vice Mayor Bill Nickels felt that BOMA’s guidelines should offer more concrete goals than what the other members offered.
“When you say recruit and work with businesses, that’s such an open ended, non-helpful suggestion. It doesn’t give any direction. The question is how,” he said. “If we say recruit and work with businesses, that’s not helpful it doesn’t give specific ideas of what (BOMA) created (it) to do.”
ECD voting member Rebecca French touched on a community retail development dilemma: How do you balance bringing in retailers like Michaels or Hobby Lobby that could overwhelm local shops?
“What kind of small businesses versus big box retail do you want to come in? I would hate to recruit big box retail that would put small businesses out that we have already started growing,” she said.
These small boutiques, she said, are the lifeblood of a young, trendy retail market.
Bringing the discussion to a head, voting member Carter Sain addressed whether the board would actively recruit business or be a passive point of contact. He said that effectiveness of the ECD as a recruitment tool would come down to the monetary commitment the city is willing to invest in it.
“We felt that we needed direction from this board before we could chart a path forward. With no budget we assumed we would be reactionary or volunteer effort based,” he said, clarifying that these were his thoughts.
“Looking at volunteers, (the outcome) is going to be limited, so I expect our results to be commensurate with the dollars we throw at this. If you want us to be active and aggressive, we need a better path … and some money,” Sain said.
Cities with more developed retail recruitment have full time staff working in that capacity.
He asked if the city were committed to funding executive staff and a director.
“We know that our (involvement) is volunteer opportunity, but it will also have to fit in our lives. For us to be effective … we need to be able to delegate to an administrative staff or more.”
Alderman Mark Messick said that his board was committed to getting the ECD the budget that it needs, and Mayor Lonnie Norman called for continuing teamwork between the groups.
“We will work with you in whatever way we can,” he said. “We’ll make this work.”
The EDC board consists of seven voting and three non-voting members. Voting members of the ECD are Mike Niederhauser, Mitch Umbarger, Jeremy Anderson, John Carter Sain, Rebecca French, Ken Huddleston and Teresa Tucker. Nonvoting members are Katy Riddle, director of the chamber of commerce, Kimber Sharpe, Director of the Coffee County Industrial Board (here appointment Monday replaces Brent Parsley and this is a non voting seat) and Taylor Rayfield, coordinator of Family Resource at Coffee County Schools.