Economic Development Committee looks to hire full time director

  • Monday, February 3, 2014

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Throughout the years the Town of Mount Pleasant has implemented various economic growth strategies. Some involved a full time coordinator, some did not.

Once again the idea to have an economic development director, who works full time on behalf of the town, is on the table.

In addition, Charleston County sent staff members to make a presentation on their economic development strategies.

Steve Dykes, Director of Charleston County Economic Development, and Merle Johnson Deputy Director overseeing existing industry outreach program, spoke about their role and their ever successful partnership with Mount Pleasant.

Their mission is recruitment of industry, retention and expansion and business climate initiatives.

Since 1995 they have partnered with the Charleston Regional Business Alliance to market Charleston to the world.

Dykes said it has been a very productive 20 years but the effort continues.

The port, the workforce, quality of life and the pro-business environment are the drivers that bring people here, he explained.

Game changers, he said include defense contractors Boeing, MUSC research, Clemson Energy Systems Facility, Charleston Technology Sector and discount air carriers.

Matthew Farrell was the town’s first economic development coordinator. He, along with others who followed him, worked closely with Dykes and his staff over the last 20 years.

The trend now, he said is companies “cautiously”expanding rather than opening anew facility.

He said that is not surprising when coming out of a recession.

Seventeen of that last 26 announcements were expansions within the county.

Over the 20 year partnership, successes include Mediterranean Shipping Company, ATD, Hubner and others.

Dykes said what he envisions ahead is a Boeing and Aerospace Center, Visitor Industry expansion, more port related companies and growth in technology companies.

Mount Pleasant, he said would be ideal for setting these types of facilities up.

“Mount Pleasant has great potential for some of the things that have succeeded on the peninsula,” Dykes said.

He said Carolina Park might be the single best interest in play right now as far as location and acreage.

Increasingly, what needs to happen, he said is a new type of recruitment strategy, heavily geared towards technology and engineering and those type of businesses.

Dykes said hiring a full time economic development director is a decision town officials would never regret.

Mount Pleasant Town Administrator Eric DeMoura explained that officials combined economic development efforts with marketing efforts and that has worked well. He said, however, that perhaps it was time for a director focus towards economic development.

The position would require development of economic development properties. In addition the person would need to spend time working and marketing those areas.

Carolina Park, is a wonderful area and has acreage that would be ideal for economic development corporations, he said. The airport, being an asset for the town, would be ideal as a viable resource, he added.

The position would be within the planning department.

Staff was given approval to move forward in creating a job description for the review of the full town council.

E-cigarettes

The Police, Legal and Judicial Committee looked at e-cigarette information. Currently the FDA has not clearly defined e-cigarettes. Several states have taken action and lumped them into the tobacco category.

But in South Carolina, in May 2013, the sale of alternative nicotine was banned to minors,

The town attorney, David Paglarini reported that the town was in compliance with their own ordinances regarding tobacco and by following state law, the town was on good footing.

Seatbelts and animals

A citizen asked that officials look at amending the ordinance regarding seat belts to include animals.

A young citizen, came before the committee to state that North Charleston has an ordinance stating animals in the bed of a truck must be tethered or crated.

She said the humane society is in favor of this request.

She said when she was eight, her neighbor’s dog was ejected and they had to put the dog down, causing heartache.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page said she is a fan of common sense as opposed to ordnance and would like to research the issue further.

Police Chief Ritchie said he can not recall an incident such as this, but was aware of a situation in which a dog was ejected from the inside of a car during a wreck.

Committee members decided not to take action but encouraged the young girl to pursue her mission to even include public awareness.

Community engagement

An initiative is underway to better connect government to its citizens.

DeMoura stressed that officials want to be engaged. This different paradigm, a shift is called concierge government.

Following the Athenian Creed, the vision will be implemented.

Pew Research, from March 2013 indicated only 63 percent have a favorable opinion of local government.

Based on a town survey from Jan. 16, 2012 citizens believe in town officials and staff.

However there is still room to improve.

Too little engagement, too busy or no desire to participate are the leading causes of negative connectivity between citizens and officials.

And on the staff level, employees are trapped in their offices with few chances to be in the community providing information and building confidence in government.

He said there are ineffective engagement methods, public hearing laws do not work. Public notice requirements are archaic.

Current practices demonstrate an exchange of information rather than true engagement.

The focus on perfecting delivery systems yields impersonal services, he explained.

The goods news is that there is a desire to volunteer, people want a sense of community back, government officials want better democracy, local government staff believe in the value of public service and the citizenry is getting back to the ideals of our founding fathers, studies found.

Successes in Mount Pleasant include the Planning Department Meet and Greet, open information meetings, constant contact surveying, customer service, a public service matters board where thank you notes are posted, and information delivery.

“But all of this is happening within our old, ineffective, and dying government engagement model,” the presentation explained.

“Providing information is not engagement, DeMoura explained.

The idea is to solicit a response from citizens.

Public engagement tools include the website, built in 2003 and updated in 2013. Traditional media was a source and in addition to that, social media, applications emerging media and other avenues are being utilized.

Data shows that the town website had 1.7 million page views in 2013.

That is up from 2011 when there were just over 400,000 and also in 2003 with just over 200,000 views.

Concierge government is a civic engagement process to reconnect the government to citizens.

The delivery of information is now placed at the same level of government services like trash collection and police protection.

DeMoura said the paradigm shift is already happening, To implement more extensive change, DeMoura would like to form a citizen’s committee composed of youth, HOA’s, seniors media, un-engaged citizens, long term and short term residents, non-profits and business leaders.

Staff changes would be required so that they have more opportunities to be out in the community and engaging the public.

DeMoura said too that statics prove the public is thirsty for digital and social media information dissemination. In that vein, he will request a person be added to the public information office.

Other ideas include to create a concierge desk on the ground floor of the new town hall. This would be similar to one at a hotel. Also, hosting a”meet your town staff” event, participate in community meals or a pot luck dinner and host drop in hours and provide a “town hall to go.”

This would involve taking an old food truck, drive it around town come register for recreation, apply for a business license etc.

Neighborhood information groups, new apps etc would also be helpful.

Kidizens is a program to teach kids about local government, SEED Chicago is a program they found that invites community members to bring in ideas, pitch the idea on kickstarter and follow the process — essentially grassroots support.

Town staff will move forward with implementing this program and report to full council

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