$75K hire would assist with attracting business
By Holly Crocco
Putnam County lawmakers are considering creating a $75,000 position within the Department of Planning, Development and Public Transportation.
During the July 19 meeting of the Legislature’s personnel committee, Personnel Director Paul Eldridge explained that the money was set aside in the 2018 budget.
Eldridge said the new hire would “shepherd infrastructure-type projects along so they don’t get so snagged … so they could progress and result in improvements that would allow for business development.”
According to Planning Commissioner Sandra Fusco, her staff is busy chasing grants for “just about every infrastructure project on table.” She said the agency needs someone to promote certain corridors to attract businesses and act as a liaison to see what those locations need to attract businesses.
The hire “would work closely with our department to be more of a community director,” she said. “That’s what I envision, for somebody to assist with community development and business development.”
Fusco said the person would have a background in marketing and sales, strong interpersonal skills and a strong sales pitch to invite businesses to “sign up” for what Putnam County and its municipalities have to offer.
Legislator Paul Jonke (R-Southeast) asked how the responsibilities of the position would differ from those of the Economic Development Corporation, which works to attract business to Putnam. “We already have someone out there beating the bushes,” he said.
Eldridge said this individual would apply for grants to help facilitate the improvement of infrastructure that is needed for a location to be move-in ready for a business, before the EDC solicits the location to incoming businesses.
“You’re going to have some spillover and you’re going to be working with the EDC and so forth, to bring business in, but you’ve got to develop the corridors and the areas – like with the sewer projects – to get businesses to say, ‘Hey, this is a place that we could do business,’ ” said Eldridge.
“I need a clearer picture of what we’re looking at,” Jonke responded. “Maybe I need to see where the void is and maybe that will help me understand. I’m happy to support development in this county, but it is a heavy price tag.”
Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) said he sees the position as more of a project manager, not a marketer.
Fusco clarified that the individual would not be hiring contractors or setting budgets, but communicating to stakeholders where a project is with regards to funding, timeline, resources and other support.
“Liaison is the crux of what we’re looking to fulfill,” she said. “Putnam County is very lacking in that piece. I like the words ‘community development.’ This person would assist the county – not necessarily me, but the county – in getting these relationships, these liaisons, and developing the rapport necessary with the municipalities.”
From the audience, Lynne Eckardt, a Putnam County resident who lives in Southeast, called the idea a “supreme waste of money.”
“We’re going to spend $75,000 on something I don’t believe we need,” she said. “And please don’t call it ‘community development’ – it’s economic development, and that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with economic development. But this is not a person that’s going to be doing community development. They’re going to be an expediter, that’s what I hear.”
Eckardt said businesses are not attracted to the area not because of a lack of development for them but because of high taxes and small markets.
“The best expediter, lobbyist, whatever you want to call this – the best one in the world isn’t going to change the facts for businesses,” she said.
Eckardt said applicants to the county should be paying for their own contractors when developing a business plan. “These are business people, these aren’t charity cases,” she said. “I don’t understand, for the life of me, why you’re asking taxpayers to foot this bill.”
William Nulk, the chairman of the Putnam County Industrial Development Agency, said the position could be helpful, because many applicants need to be “shepherded” through the red tape that sometimes roadblocks development.
Legislator Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) asked her colleagues to wait until Eldridge and Fusco further define the position.
“Once we see what the focus is, we’d be in a better position to make that informed decision,” she said. “I’m very receptive to learning more about that. If we can be more effective and efficient, I would support that.”