Economic Development Council gets a boost in funding to increase executive director’s hours

Local businesses will have greater access to the resources and guidance of the Economic Development Council thanks to a financial contribution from the county’s 2260 Fund.

The County Council voted 4-2 Tuesday to contribute $8,400 from the fund, which is dedicated to financing public projects that foster economic development, to the EDC to increase its executive director’s hours.

With so many businesses struggling to get by, EDC executive director Victoria Compton said the request might best be viewed as plea for “emergency funding.”

“There’s just so much demand out on the street right now,” Compton said of the number of businesses looking for ways to stay afloat. “People are calling and saying, ‘Help me, I’m about to go under’ or ‘I don’t know if I can make payroll.’ One woman called me up in tears, that’s how bad it is.”

County Administrator Pete Rose recommended the council consider the request as part of the 2011 budget. He noted the EDC is on line to receive $50,000 from the 2260 Fund this year, $35,000 of which is earmarked for the Agricultural Resources Committee coordinator and $15,000 for EDC payroll expenses.

Compton said the supplement allows her to work more than 30 hours a week and covers the cost of four separate programs, which she will develop:

— 12 educational workshops for 180 businesses and entrepreneurs.

— An additional seminar on available from state and federal sources, such as the USDA.

— Upgrades to Web sites and search engines.

— Re-implementation of the Islands Certified Local program, with a membership goal of 50 farmers and 25 businesses.

Though sympathetic to the plight of local businesses, Councilman Bob Myhr, Lopez/Shaw, noted the county is grappling with a financial strain of its own and voted against the request. Council Chairman Richard Fralick, who voted against the request as well, said funding the request lowers the amount available in the 2260 Fund and would take place “out of sequence” with the budget and with the 2260 awards process.

Fralick said the 2260 Fund review committee received six applications totaling $280,000 in requests, and only $218,000 is available. Those applications will be assessed by the committee later this week and presumably ready for consideration by the council in two weeks.

Enacted by the state Legislature a decade ago, House Bill 2260 provided rural counties that plan under the Growth Management Act with a .08 percent kickback on locally-generated sales-tax receipts. The bulk of that revenue is earmarked for publicly-owned projects that foster economic development and is distributed annually as part of of a competitive grant process overseen by the County Council.

The Legislature bumped up the amount counties could retain to .09 percent three years ago, and also amended the legislation to allow salaries of some public agencies, such as an EDC, to be paid for by those economic development dollars.

EDC President Patty Miller said giving local businesses a helping hand will build a bigger pot of economic development dollars for the county to distribute in the long run. The more sales a business generates, she said, the better for the 2260 fund.

Though it has a plan, Miller said the EDC lacks the resources to help meet the needs of local businesses without that supplement.

“We will just have to say ‘No’, she said.