After a year in limbo, Boonville and Cooper County took a major step towards revamping their economic development arm Monday night.
The Boonville City Council approved a joint agreement with Cooper County to fund the Boonslick Community Development Corporation, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, which would hire a full-time economic developer. The not-for-profit was previously used to hold ownership of the K Barracks on the former Kemper campus for the city while the property had asbestos removed.
Unlike municipalities, the not-for-profit can offer an economic developer incentives for helping bring more jobs into Cooper County. The details of the incentives haven’t been finalized, but part of the economic developer’s contract would be a bonus for adding a certain number of jobs, similar to giving a business cash incentives for bringing jobs into the county, Hirlinger said.
“If you’re a football coach and get hired by the university, you get extra money if you go to a bowl game,” he said. “That’s what this is about.”
Another benefit of running economic development through a not-for-profit is that it can take donations from local residents, businesses and groups who want to contribute to the county’s economic development. The not-for-profit will still mainly be funded by the city and county, but private donations could make the economic developer more directly accountable to people in the community, he said.
The city will contribute $45,000 a year and the county will contribute $35,000 a year after the council voted 7-1 on Monday to approve the agreement. The city will also let the economic developer use the old economic development office behind City Hall, which is already furnished, Hirlinger said.
Third Ward Councilman Brent Bozarth was the only vote against it. He said his issue wasn’t with the underlying plan, just with the length of the city’s commitment to it.
The contract is a five year commitment, and the only way to cancel it before five years is with the approval of all three of the City Council, County Commission and the not-for-profit’s board. Bozarth questioned why that was necessary.
There needs to be a level of job security for an economic developer to want to take the job, so it can’t be too easy to cancel the agreement, said Ken Hirlinger, president of the Boonville Industrial Development Agency. MU backing out of its economic development contract with the city last year is an example of why they can’t make it too easy.
The cancellation clause does give the parties some way out if it’s not going well, and if it goes better than expected. If the economic developer is very successful in their first few years, they might not want to stay on with the salary they were hired on, so it’s possible they’d have to cancel the agreement and write a new one, he said.
“Basically what we’re going to deliver to the city, and the county, is a full-time person for what you were paying a person putting in a third of their time here,” Hirlinger said.
The city hasn’t had an economic developer for nearly a year since MU backed out of its agreement last July. Jim Gann, an MU employee, worked with the Industrial Development Authority on economic development for four years.
“We need to get the show back on the road,” Hirlinger said.
Among Gann’s accomplishments were securing a $1.5 million federal grant, which the city matched to renovate buildings on the former Kemper Military Academy campus, allowing State Fair Community College to move in. He also helped draw gun manufacturer CMMG and its 50 jobs from Fayette to fill the former INDEECO plant in Boonville with a $200,000 forgivable loan in 2016. CMMG’s retail store, Black Rifle, followed last year, moving from Columbia to the B Highway exit off Interstate 70.
Despite several successful projects, budget cuts forced MU to restructure its Office of Economic Development last year, and it cancelled its economic development agreement with Boonville. Gann, a Boonville resident, is now on the IDA board, so he’s still giving his insight to Boonville’s economic development, Hirlinger said.
A major focus will continue to be filling vacant industrial buildings, like the former Nordyne plant. Property owners like Big Industrial, the Kansas City-based company that owns the Nordyne building, need to be brought into the loop more, which would be part of the economic developer’s job. The city and IDA have come close to filling more of those properties in recent years, Hirlinger said.
“Coming in second is no good,” he said. “It’s no better than coming in fourth or tenth. It’s not first.”
The Boonslick Community Development Corporation will have a 12-person board, including Boonville City Administrator Irl Tessendorf, the eight current members of the Industrial Development Authority, including a Cooper County Commissioner, and three other county residents. The bylaws require a board of at least 12 members, so it could add more, but 12 is a good size, Hirlinger said.
The board’s next step will be hiring an economic developer, with a search led by a four-person panel, made up of two board members, a Cooper County Commissioner, and either Tessendorf or Boonville Assistant City Administrator Kate Fjell, Hirlinger said.