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Editorial: Government must provide tools for EDC to succeed

Construction is under way for Enza Zaden seed company's new LEED-certified building near San Juan Bautista.

Nearly four years ago as the local economy continued to stagnate, the community rallied around the Economic Development Corp. of San Benito County’s renewed efforts to recruit a 21st century executive director who had the Rolodex of connections and industry experience to rejuvenate the private sector.

Four years later, as Executive Director Nancy Martin departs her role, the organization’s once-ambitious outlook has failed to meet expectations, while the EDC faces a critical crossroad with the recent disappearance of government funding, spurred by a combination of lacking confidence from county officials and the Hollister Redevelopment Agency’s dissolution.

While there is plenty of blame to go around for the EDC’s struggles to spur economic development here, it does no good to live in the past other than learning from and improving upon the hiring process and restructuring of the organization that occurred in the fall of 2008.

Moving forward, it is most important that local government leaders give the EDC and its future leader adequate tools to get the job done. Without those tools, without the systems in place to entice local industry, the EDC and other supporters shouldn’t bother going through the motions again and starting yet another repetitive, disappointing chapter for the organization.

County and city officials in recent years have talked the talk but simply haven’t walked the walk. Their policy considerations on a range of developer impact fees have been wildly inconsistent. They routinely balk at proposed costs increases but then turn around and, regardless, approve them.

Although county planning officials about two years ago vowed to streamline the permitting process, there remains a range of clogs in the system that deter potential developers. The city and county, meanwhile, haven’t exactly made a crusade out of cooperation to ensure planning processes are consistent in an area where borders are grayed and community is largely defined countywide.

While city and county officials must take a serious approach to slashing impact fees, they must find creative ways to entice industry to notice this area. Gone are the days when businesses focused on quality of life factors – such as the beauty of San Benito County’s hillsides, its weather and relatively close proximity to the coast – when weighing where to open shop. These days, it’s all about the cost of doing business.

Where are the ideas, the tools, to support industry growth here? Why not forgo all impact fees for new businesses whose economic impact offsets those revenue losses within, say, three or five years? After all, 50 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. Granted, Martin and the EDC should have been pushing harder for the tools to do their job, but elected leaders have neglected to give due attention to the organization’s needs and certainly didn’t help its cause.

Where is the adequate infrastructure? It lacks severely and must be addressed, a foundation built, before the county can reasonably expect a business boom from outsiders who want basic necessities.

As for the EDC itself moving forward, it must avoid a rubber-stamp process and establish serious quantitative and qualitative objectives for a new director. In the meantime, it would be nice to get that long-planned EDC website launched so outside companies not only notice us, but also realize we have stepped beyond our antiquated ways.