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HCDC Seeks Guidance for a New Direction

by Keith Burton - GulfCoastNews.com
Filed 3/9/04

The Harrison County Development Commission seems to be an agency seeking direction. This was apparent in a workshop held Monday at the Grand Oasis Hotel in Gulfport.

The HCDC has found itself in the hot seat for several years by a range of people including past and current  commissioners, and some businesses and public officials who say the agency needs to be reformed.

The overall purpose of the workshop was an examination of the findings of a consultant hired by Harrison County Development Commission board member Bruce Nourse while he was president of the board. Nourse, however, was not at the meeting. Commissioner Richard Bennett was also not at the meeting. Both had work conflicts.

Also not at the workshop were any of the members of the Board of Supervisors. But that may not be their fault, while they were invited, Monday was a regular day for the supervisor to meet in their own meeting.

The public was also invited, but there was only the Sun Herald’s reporter and GCN in attendance. It would have been uncomfortable anyway, as there was no additional chairs setup for guests.

Making the presentation was Jay Garner with Competitive Strategies Group from Atlanta. Garner’s company regularly provides consulting assistance to Chambers of Commerce and development agencies in the south.

The workshop seemed to be hastily developed as posters, outlining different points in the consultant’s report that were taped on the wall, were hand-written and unprofessional, and the overall agenda was short. Still the meeting lasted about five hours.

Among the consultant’s findings was that the HCDC doesn’t have sense of what it should be  doing.

“The HCDC’s mission has evolved over the years in ways that have caused confusion in the minds of the public,” Garner told commissioners. He added that the result reduced the effectiveness of the commission’s work.

He recommended that the HCDC reset its mission priorities with a focus on being more concern toward work that benefits the county, and not regional issues, and operate more like a business. “Which it is,” Garner said.

Most of the commission members are important executives in their own businesses, decision makers with years of business experience. But the consultant’s presentation, in part, was much like one would get in Business 101.

Early in his presentation, Garner had each commissioner write out a headline they would like to see in The Sun Herald newspaper.  Then he had them read them aloud. The headlines then became talking points in his presentation. If we were to summarize the headline themes it would be, “HCDC Brings Home New Businesses.” We will spare you the actual examples.

Garner explained that the commissioners needed to be policy oriented and let the HCDC staff implement policy. This seemed to be directed more toward the Commission’s staff director Michael Olivier who is known to run the HCDC with a tight rein.

Garner said that the HCDC has so confused the public and isolated public officials that provide funding for the agency, that public money was cut off this year for the HCDC by the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. Meaning that the HCDC is operating on its own resources, “which will run out,” if it continues.

A key recommendation by the consultant is that the HCDC needs to establish a public/private partnership to raise funds for the agency’s work

The consultant also recommends that the HCDC tighten up requirements for businesses that it recommends to receive tax incentives and that such businesses are reviewed to see if they are meeting job promises.  He also suggested that the HCDC improve its public communication’s efforts and website.

The HCDC is expected to vote to establish new priorities and adopt some of the consultant’s recommendations in an upcoming meeting.


Guest Opinion - Out of the Darkness - A Call for Accountability at the HCDC - by Reilly Morse

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