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County explores economic development options

Article Date: 
28 September, 2012 (All day)

The Morgan County Council hopes to change the “anti-business” reputation it seems to have.
“Roadblock.  That’s the label we’ve been given up here,” Councilman Robert Kilmer said.  “Every time someone comes, we shoot them in the foot and don’t let them past.  Morgan has the name ‘It’s tough to do business.’”
Councilwoman Ronda Kippen said the best and easiest thing the county can do to change the reputation is to identify areas for business growth, adjust zoning maps, and change county codes.
“These are things we can do with our current staff,” Kippen said.  “I am not sure why we are looking at another consultant.  We’ve studied, we’ve consulted, and we’ve studied, and we’ve consulted.  If we hire another consultant, I am scared to step out of the building without full body armor on.”
The council acknowledged the efforts of the homegrown Morgan Area Chamber of Commerce, but discussed the need for more economic development expertise.  Councilman Lyle Nelson invited Matthew Godfrey, a consultant hired to help Morgan City secure a hotel, to discuss economic development with the council.
Godfrey said the county needs a very specific plan in order for economic development to thrive.
“That level of specificity is really important,” Godfrey said.  “I am partial to having an expert coming in and doing it.”
“In my conversations with EDCU, they have expressed reservations with the climate in Morgan and our capability to affect specific economic development activity,” Nelson said.
Godfrey said Morgan doesn’t seem to be a great place for retail businesses.
Councilman Ned Mecham agreed.  He said in his lifetime, at least 50 businesses have started and left Morgan.
“People in Morgan just don’t support the businesses that are here,” Mecham said.  “We are always going to be a bedroom community with some business.”
Being a bedroom community poses specific challenges to the county, Kilmer said.
“If we are just accepting we will always be a bedroom community, why waste any more time with it?” Kilmer asked.  “We need to jack everyone’s taxes through the roof.”  
 “We are getting to point critical where we can’t rely on rooftops only to take care of basic services,” Councilman Don Mathews said.  “There is no harm in exploring our options.  We have to do something.”
Mathews said touting Morgan as a recreational hot spot could make the county a “destination spot” alive with economic development. He said the county also needs to improve infrastructure, especially high speed Internet options.
“If you want to create a business climate, the county, city and chamber needs to all work together,” said Albert Wilde, with the Morgan Area Chamber of Commerce.  He said existing business owners are the best “consultant” when trying to figure out how to change county codes to be more business-friendly.
“We have to explore our options in every which way,” Council Chairwoman Tina Kelley said.
“The economy is poised to recover,” Mathews said.  “We need to run to catch our fair share, so we are poised to jump on any opportunity.”