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Development groups not doing job in county

Pierce County spends about $80,000 a year on economic development efforts, but a study committee doubts the county is getting value for its dollar.

"The group came to the conclusion that the effort is sort of scatter-shot and defused more than it should be," said Supervisor Jim Camery, Town of Clifton, who chaired the ad hoc committee formed about nine months ago.

Camery said the committee believes economic development efforts would be more effective if there was a more "tightly defined function." He suggested the county "put the eggs in one basket."

The report's harshest criticisms were aimed at the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission (MRRPC) and the Pierce County Economic Development Corporation (PCEDC).

According to the report, the MRRPC has had "very little business-oriented activity over the past five years," and while it supplies "planning horsepower" to smaller municipalities, the county's own departments fill that role here.

"They just haven't provided any sort of return for Pierce County," said Camery. He added, "Our sense was they don't add much to a county like ours."

As for PCEDC, the report said that agency "has atrophied and slipped from its goal of attracting and retaining high-value jobs."

While the PCEDC aims to encourage development of high-tech and biotechnology businesses, the reality is the jobs it has helped create have been in agriculture, retail and general manufacturing, said the report.

But, according to the report, while the 20-year-old economic development corporation isn't as effective as it could be, it is the best current alternative.

The study group suggested withdrawing from the MRRPC by 2008 and monitoring PCEDC's progress.

Camery said PCEDC's director, Bill Warner, who has returned to the job after working in the private sector for 10 years, "thinks he can get the train back on the track."

Camery suggested Warner be held to the goal of developing seven new jobs by the end of the year.

While the previous university extension resource agent had a small role in economic development, the study group recommended that, as the parent committee plans to refill the job, it pull out any involvement in economic development.

The study group is looking for a stronger sales and marketing effort, but shouldn't overlook the technical support provided by agencies such as extension, responded Supervisor Rich Purdy, Town of River Falls.

"I think we're going about this all wrong," protested Supervisor Don Nellessen, rural Spring Valley. He suggested developing a "growth center" that would be manned by the various agencies.

"We've got to sell our county," said Nellessen. "I think cutting funding is not the best way to do it."

Camery dismissed the support role extension and MRRPC supply for businesses interested in locating in Pierce County.

He said most of the information they provide comes from existing public documents: "It's stuff you can go right to the Wisconsin Blue Book and pull out."

Supervisor Dan Reis, rural Ellsworth, said MRRPC provided more information about its function after the study group finished its work. He said that information needs to be considered.

The committee also looked at Pierce County Partners in Tourism. Although that agency got no credit for generating new jobs, the report said it is "effective, efficient."

The county budgeted these amounts for the agencies for 2007: $24,058 for MRRPC; $30,905 for PCEDC; and $22,100 for Partners in Tourism.