Last week I noted the visit of Ron Sachs to the Gadsden Chamber of Commerce’ meeting and his blunt remarks about the state of the county and its future, unless somebody does something.
Among those observations was questioning the Board of County Commissioners’ decision to strip the Chamber of its job as the official organ for economic development, handing the responsibility over to an advisory committee made up, primarily, of government functionaries.
As the old coach said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Several years back the county sacked the Chamber and hired an economic development czar. The most notable achievement of that period was a $522 dinner tab spent on wooing a tire recycling company that promptly went bankrupt the following week. Much money was spent assembling information the Chamber had already assembled and the upshot was $100,000+ and nothing to show for it. As my granddaddy used to say, a case of “A wet bottom and no fish.”
So here we go again. In my column last week I spoke to the culture of self-interest that pervades the government of Gadsden County. The advisory council-turned-business development department is composed of the various managers of the municipalities and similar interested parties, each with his or her own axe to grind and constituency to please. It is a formalizing of the problem that Ron Sachs alluded to. The lady hired to run this thing has her work cut out for her; it should be a classic case of herding cats.
It is unreasonable to expect much. To begin with, one assumes that the state Sunshine Laws apply. Discussions, memos, notes are all subject to public scrutiny which will serve as a damper on the enthusiasm for most businesses. As it’s a public body spending public money, made up largely of public officials, the press has a right to look things over. The Chamber did not have that awkward problem. They were performing a function for hire and while they reported to the BOCC, the details and notes were privileged. Hunting for business is best done in the shade.
If you subscribe to the idea that government is good at service and business operates for a profit, hunting new business and jobs is a natural activity for the private sector. I don’t want a government run like a business. I want a government run like a government, to do the things that business can’t or won’t do because there’s no profit in it.
But no worries, the piffling amount of money involved, while helpful to the Chamber in its efforts, is totally inadequate for the purported effort of economic development. It is reflective of how important the county feels this activity is. They spend more on a single road scraper than they do on economic development. It’s an afterthought.
As a taxpayer, I wouldn’t really care who handles economic development if I felt it was money well spent. Given to the Chamber in pursuit of jobs and payrolls, while not much, it is at least part of a greater effort. Spent by a mixed bag of government managers with other things on their minds suggests all we’ll get is a damp derriere.