In depth: Economic Development

Gulf Coast Minority Chamber CEO Brian Wyer handled economic development for the mayoral transition team.

•    Adopt the covenant for the community.

The Covenant for the Community, which requires that 70 percent of all workers on a construction project be from the local area, has already been adopted by Escambia County. It contains specific guidelines for county procurements related to construction projects and capital improvements. If our goal is to develop our own economy first, I recommend the city adopt the same measure for its projects.

•    Increase awareness of the city’s “One-Stop Development” meeting that currently takes place.

The city has created a valuable informational weekly opportunity, Wednesdays at 9 a.m. at City Hall, to help business owners by having all key city stakeholders available at one time to answer questions and concerns about permitting, planning, economic opportunity and fire safety. We should create more awareness of that meeting as many business owners I spoke with were not aware of this innovative approach.

•  Clearly define the functions of the city’s Economic Development department.

I recommend all potential economic development projects that come to the city have a clear and defined standard procedure to eliminate mixed messaging and provide clear expectations to potential business owners.

This includes defining which staff people—the city’s Economic Development staff person, FloridaWest, Mayor Robinson, the pertinent department head, etc.—are in the loop as an opportunity begins and progresses.

•  Create an objective measurement protocol for Economic Development.

The success of Economic Development can often be difficult to track. I recommend that the city develop clear measurement to evaluate the success of local economic development organizations and dollars invested by the taxpayers.

•  Create monthly startup fairs for local businesses.

As our city grows, so does the thirst for entrepreneurship. We have to ask ourselves how much we are helping quench that thirst as a city. One possible addition would be a monthly “Small Business Startup Lab” designed for startups and people just thinking about doing business in our city.

These meetings should be monthly and serve as “one stop shopping” for individuals needing assistance in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

These meetings, which should be coordinated by the city’s economic development department, should include internal departments like permitting, licensing and planning—just like the weekly meetings already in place. But it should also include information from a rotation of people outside city government including information about banking and financing, microloan grants and programs, the Small Business Development Council, etc.

If our city wants to cultivate small business growth, we should also take responsibility for helping people access the needed information, not wait until a business owner comes to our door.

A significant part of this meeting’s success will be to market it strongly, so a marketing effort to let our community know will be required.