When I look at really, great, out-of-the-box thinking that originated in Republic County the last few years, the first and best example that comes to mind is Republic County Economic Development.
Economic development– what to do and how to pay for it–is a subject I see played out often in newspapers in surrounding communities. The county or city or maybe a private organization hires a director, pays them benefits, sets them up in an office and a desk and installs a telephone, and immediate the fight begins “because they’re not doing anything”.
Republic County went through seven such directors in 11 years–all good, smart people–most who stayed 18 months or less. Usually they set up shop in a vacant office in the Belleville City Office, where all sorts of individuals and groups suggested wonderful ways they could “help”- -although not much actually related to economic development.
Then the RCED board–all volunteers themselves–hit upon the idea to contract with a private marketing agency for a specific number of hours and/or for a specific job they wanted done. No benefits, no mileage, no office expenses. Just contract for a flat rate.
It is true that less creative personalities than Jenny Russell and Luke Mahin may not have been able to pull off this scenario. But it has been a boon for Republic County that I’m surprised more counties haven’t rushed to copy. Even if a city or county only wanted to contract for 10 hours, or 20 hours a week, it’s an economic development effort that is easily controlled and project targeted. If the company doesn’t deliver, end the contract.
In reality “economic development” can do nothing on its own. All a director can do is promote, provide information, help with research, offer ideas. It is still up to enterprising, out-of-the-box individuals to make their business, and the county, a success.
And for the $12.64 per person Republic County spends each year on economic development–it’s a darn good bargain and a necessity, not just a good idea.
*RCED is funded by Republic County and the cities of Belleville, Agenda, Courtland, Munden, and Scandia.