Melissa Collins, chair of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce (HRCC), and its CEO, Bob Largent, met with members of the Boone County Quorum Court and its Budget and Finance Committee Tuesday night seeking funding to help it continue its mission of growing economic development in the region in 2021. The committee will recommend to the full court when it meets next week to meet the request halfway.
Collins announced to the committee that she has agreed to serve as HRCC’s chairperson for another year. She reviewed highlights of her first year holding the position. They included two visits to Harrison by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Those visits resulted from HRCC’s outreach efforts, she said.
She noted the creation of a statistical data base, “Pulse of Boone County,” a real time economic development report that appears on the HRCC’s website. She also noted that through collaborative efforts of local businesses and industry the Workforce Initiative Network (WIN) was created to attract high school students to career training and education opportunities. Its main focus is to show students what career opportunities are available to them after high school without leaving home.
Looking ahead, Collins said HRCC wants to develop a 300-acre industrial park somewhere in Boone County.
Funds for economic development have come from various sources including grants authorized by both the quorum court and the Harrison City Council. The quorum court granted HRCC $5,000 for 2020.
Collins said HRCC is requesting the quorum court to establish a line item to its general operating budget in 2021. The dollars designated will provide annual revenue for the economic development mission and will accumulate to build an improvement and an incentive fund for businesses who are expanding or businesses who want to move to this area. The quorum court would retain control of this economic resource.
Collins made a second request to the committee. This is to budget $15,000 for the court’s continued partnership with HRCC for 2021.
“This minimal amount will allow the economic development engine to continue and demonstrate the court’s commitment to new jobs and additional tax revenue,” Collins said.
Budget and Finance Committee chairman Jim Harp posed this question, “What would you say to an old guy that says, ‘I like our lifestyle. I’m afraid to risk it by supporting economic growth.’?”
Collins’ response was that the type of growth anticipated would be slow and steady. She said she would ask that person if he sees his children and grandchildren being able to work and raise their families here. That slow and steady growth has to be fostered by the work done for economic development.
Fielding questions from justices of the peace ,both Collins and Largent repeated that one of the difficult hurdles to attracting and growing businesses to the area is the social media image of racism that continues to exist even though efforts continue to be made to correct that image. Largent said companies have been unable to recruit professionals to fill positions.
The Budget and Finance Committee then took up its agenda leaving the HRCC requests for last.
Harp said the quorum court would control an economic development fund if it were established in the general budget. He said HRCC could make a request for money from the fund. “We can say yes or no.”
Justice Bryan Snavely said money could be released with stipulations.
Justice David Thompson said he sees the line item as being non-governmental. He said the county should handle the requests for funds like a contract for services.
“I’m inclined to tell them we will look at that next year.” Harp proposed.
As for appropriating funds next year for economic development, the committee resisted supporting the full $15,000 requested.
It was noted that the proposed 2021 budget is conservative and doesn’t include a pay increase for county employees.
There should be a show of faith, said Justice Rodney Sullins. He said HRCC has done what it said it would do.
Justice Glenn Redding said he thought that’s a lot less than what was asked for. “I think they did more than what they did a year ago.”
There was an inclination to double last year’s appropriation to $10,000. But a motion died for lack of a second.
Justice Bobby Woods countered that in view of the budget constraints the court should appropriate $7,500. Justice Thompson made that in form of a motion and Justice James Widner seconded. It was unanimously approved by the committee. “That’s a 50% increase,” said Harp.