A letter to county commissioners from Marion Mayor Todd Heitschmidt calls for a new vision of county economic development. Speaking with Marion Economic Development Inc. members Thursday, Heitschmidt elaborated on that vision, which didn’t exactly include county economic developer Teresa Huffman.
“Discussion’s probably going to hinge more on how could Hillsboro and Marion economic development folks actually work more in the county as well as our cities,” he said. “Basically, in theory, with one taking the west half of the county and one taking the east half.”
“And replace our existing county position?” Tampa State Bank president Chris Costello asked.
“That’s one of the ideas,” he said.
Heitschmidt pointed to successful collaboration between Marion and Hillsboro on economic development projects in the past.
“They always have been very congenial,” he said. “I think we’ll find a very united front looking at economic development for our two towns, plus the county, going forward.”
He also referred to Marion County Economic Development Council, which dissolved because of conflict between many members. Heitschmidt said it “imploded at the hands of a couple of people.”
City administrator Roger Holter has long been an advocate of collaboration between communities, and said talks with the county will be focused on the future.
“That’s not the intent of this meeting, defining what the sins of the past have been,” he said. “It’s focused on taking case studies from various successful communities, and saying ‘What’s the Marion County version of that look like?’”
Holter cited Harvey, Finney, and Greeley counties as areas that have multiple municipalities uniting to drive their communities forward.
“By getting a clear vision of all of the elected and appointed officials, as well as development organizations, these three communities have experienced great growth,” he said. “Here’s our opportunity, based on some personnel issues, to start taking these case studies and bringing them to the table.”
Heitschmidt clarified that it was “not the proper time” for Marion to engage in a joint economic venture with Hillsboro, but collaborating could have its benefits.
“I just wonder if Marion County needs three or more economic development directors,” Costello said. “Wichita has one. There’s a few more people there.”
MEDI members went on to discuss the possibility of forming a for-profit economic interest group. Heitschmidt said the group would need investors, but that the strategy was worth looking into.
“It’s worked well to the west of here,” he said, referring to Hillsboro.
Holter added on.
“Not even just nine miles west, either. It’s worked well 37 miles west, too.”
The group intends to focus more intently on exploring a for-profit venture before its next scheduled meeting in January.