Published On: Fri, May 18th, 2012

Economic Development Dedicated Fund

By: Al Zucaro

BOON OR BOONDOGGLE……

Generally speaking, economic development is a good thing but the path to reasoned, managed growth is where reasonable people may agree to disagree reasonably.

Last week at the city’s goal setting summit, a dedicated fund for economic development was discussed. Framed as a necessary tool to compete with other municipal governments, business voices stood in support of dedicating up to $5 million from the general revenue fund on a yearly basis.

Attracting new commercial users is also a good thing. However, under the circumstance in Boca Raton, today, there is a real need to pause before committing such general revenue funds. Based on the reported financial and human resource needs of the city, merely keeping the current level of service and the expected quality of life over the next few years will become even more challenging.

City administration presented compelling argument that Boca Raton is facing a multi mullion dollar short fall based upon today’s millage revenues, diminishing national, state and county contributions, and the greater cost of goods in general. The city manager argues that cutbacks of the last 3 – 4 years have dangerously depleted resources and personnel and that most departments have many unfilled positions and a growing workload demand.

But….economic development is a path to greater prosperity and should not be discarded!

The presidents of the Boca Chamber and the Business Development Board both stood in support of a $5 million reoccurring incentive fund to allow Boca Raton to compete with surrounding municipalities for business relocation. Their sentiment argued that Boca Raton will lose opportunity unless this fund is in place to supplement other economic incentives from the county and the state.

Over the last few months there have been a number of published reports that suggest that Boca Raton already has a $5 million dollar fund in place. It does….the council has previously approved this amount from reserves for any deals that require further incentive to locate within the city instead of other competing destinations.

Recent news reports establish that cities like Palm Beach Gardens, West Palm Beach and Delray Beach have aggressively stepped up with programs designed to provide such incentives. Why…. because they simply cannot compete with Boca Raton and they know it….

But….perhaps this is the appropriate time to pause….

Is creating such a fund really a good thing, a blessing that guarantees competitiveness or is it more wasteful government spending on projects with no guarantee of any actual success?

A rhetorical question, I think not….

Boca Raton is already the most attractive relocation destination in Palm Beach County. Relocation decisions are made for many reasons: to wit: roadways, infrastructure, technology, government, schools, real estate, access, location and quality of life, to mention just a few. Empirical evidence suggests we are, without doubt, the leading municipality in these areas.

The troubling question is how long will we remain the top dog in this competitive arena? Boca Raton is at risk to lose its competitive edge. How many open positions can we afford? How many personnel do we have to lose to competing municipalities? How much institutional knowledge must be lost before we realize that it is time to do some housekeeping, time to pick up the pace?

Reasonable people may argue reasonably on the need for economic development funding but it is not reasonable to think in these terms this year.

This year Boca Raton must face the need to add human resources and provide its personnel the tools to meet the challenges of unfunded mandates, shrinking county and state dollars and an ever growing civic demand.

In business there is an age old adage that creating guaranteed comfort levels leads to becoming “…fat, dumb, and happy…”

We, as a city, cannot afford to be fat dumb and happy…we need to make sure that we remain the lead city in the county, the renaissance city of south Florida.

The Business Development Board and the Convention and Visitors Bureau are expanding their reach to international destinations. Perhaps we should engage with them in a greater way. Perhaps we need to message ourselves in multi languages, especially Spanish and Portuguese as Columbia and Brazil are target markets. There are so many less costly items to consider aside form raising millage for a dedicated economic development fund.

Creative, out of the box thinking is how we will compete, how we continue to win market share. Boca Raton already accepts the proposition that “…if you build it, they will come…” The ‘great’ city of Boca Raton is already built as a world class destination ready to embrace efforts and welcome opportunities.

So bring the opportunity to the table. Negotiate the best deal to a winning formula and have faith that this great city of Boca Raton will step up to the plate and provide a competitive destination furthering their vision as well as increasing our revenues

Al Zucaro

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