City pulls plug on economic development commission

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The most recent meeting of the Keizer Economic Development Commission sounded more like a funeral dirge than buoyant talk about the state of Keizer’s business climate.

Members of the commission met for the first time since August 2016 on Wednesday, April 19, to discuss the future of the commission itself rather than the future of business in Keizer.

Despite a charge to meet quarterly, meetings were postponed again and again during the past seven months when a quorum couldn’t be reached. While receiving updates on several city-owned properties, which were thought to become a source for economic development fund, commissioners learned that the city has changed course.

Commissioner Rick Day, who researched and presented a detailed outline for a city-funded economic development grant program, seemed most perturbed at the lack of follow-through.

“Are these ideas dead or reduced?” Day asked.

“To be blunt, my understanding it is dead because the city is struggling to add staff to parks and police,” replied Nate Brown, Keizer’s community development director. Brown added that any new funds from sale or lease of city-owned property would likely be directed to shortfalls involving police and parks.

Talk quickly turned to the future of the commission and what role, if any, the current commissioners would play.

One of the ideas floated at earlier meetings was hosting a business-oriented event at the Keizer Civic Center as a show of being “open for business.” However, Brown said that fell more under the umbrella of marketing and might be a task better-suited to the Keizer Chamber of Commerce. Regardless of the purpose of such an event, the city does not offer much in terms of incentives for luring businesses to Keizer.

Commissioner Carlos Soto, who is also a member of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce board, said the group is enthusiastic about taking on a larger role in enticing businesses to Keizer.

“I think it will be a good thing for us because that’s exactly what we do,” Soto said.

Day requested clarification as to whether the existing commission would be disbanded and whether city staff would still be available as a resource.

Brown said city staff would be available to work in collaboration with the new Chamber-led group after Day expressed dissatisfaction with an answer supplied by Mayor Cathy Clark.

Commissioner AJ Nash, a commercial realtor, said for economic development to begin in earnest, the city needs to put money on the table.

“One thing speaks to business and that’s money, and until that happens we are not as open for business as the surrounding communities,” Nash said, adding that system development charge credits and grants would be a start.

He also suggested that the new group lobby for some of the proceeds gleaned from the sale and lease of city property be reinvested in economic development.

Commissioners agreed to take part in the initial meeting of the new group, but several hoped the Chamber would include non-member voices on the new committee.

“Healthy, targeted diversity and removing the requirement of being a chamber member would move it in the right direction,” Nash said.

While the commission was not formally disbanded by the current members, it is not expected they will meet after the establishment of the Chamber-led group. No timeline was established for putting the new group in motion.