City, County Launch Economic Development Efforts

By: Mark Singletary

Two new area government initiatives are being put forth to increase economic activity and simplify the process to begin commercial development and construction. Alachua County and the city of Gainesville, with separate resolutions have created commissions to facilitate economic growth.

UX: Gainesville is a collaborative effort between the city of Gainesville and a San Francisco consulting company to help create a more user friendly approach to city government services. UX is an acronym for user experience, according to reports found on the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce website, and defines the expectations from community leaders.
The collaborators started the process recently and hope to have a report ready for the community by October. The panel of locals were appointed by the mayor, city commissioners, area colleges and economic development groups.

The committee consists of 23 members, 14 appointed by city commissioners and mayor, two appointed by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, two appointed by the Gainesville/Alachua County Association of Realtors, two appointed by the Builders Association of North Central Florida and one member appointed each by The University of Florida, Santa Fe College and the Gainesville Area Innovation Network.

The members are: Dr. Lisa Armour, Dean Cheshire, Gerry Dedenbach, Dave Ferro, John Fleming, Mitch Glaeser, Corey Harris, Thomas Hawkins, Erin Henderson, Diego Ibenez, Brian Leslie, Tom Lyons, Lee May, Diyonne McGraw, Tommy McIntosh, Lee Nelson, Omar Oselimo, Jackie Paris, Angela Tharpe, Robert Walpole and Matt Webster.
“There is both perception and reality that things take longer to get done in Gainesville than other markets,” Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy said at a community meeting the group hosted in downtown Gainesville on August 6.

The city of Gainesville is named the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee on Economic Competitiveness and is tasked with the mission to rethink how the city does business. They will develop an action plan and submit a report to be adopted by the city commission.

The advisory committee is chaired by Mitch Glaeser, former chairman of the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce. The funding for the effort is being provided by philanthropic gifts from area organizations, including the University of Florida, the Builders Association of North Central Florida, the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Council for Economic Outreach, UF Health Shands and the Gainesville/Alachua County Association of Realtors.

The city is lending a hand by designating Anthony Lyons, interim director of planning and development services for the city of Gainesville, as executive director of the committee.
The committee’s primary responsibility is to study, research, evaluate and make recommendations to the city commission concerning changes to city regulations, organization, processes, technology and staffing to improve the city’s business environment and the also enhance the resident experience, according to city reports.

The mayor went on to say that he wanted Gainesville to become a leader in economic development in the region and the state. He added that he definitely expects Gainesville to become small business friendlier.

The county resolution, dated August 6, was the result of a year of collaboration between the Alachua County Economic Development Advisory Committee, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Alachua County staff and citizens.

According to the resolution, the county plan will provide specific, actionable items that Alachua County can do to facilitate economic development and improve the climate for starting and growing a business in Alachua County.

This committee is a result of the Business and Economic Growth Action Plan adopted in March and directed the county staff to move forward with implementing recommendations. There were 48 recommendations included in the county plan.

The Alachua County commissioners voted unanimously to appoint the following members to the county task force: Robert Woody, Ishmael Rentz, Kinnon Thomas, Adrian Hayes-Santos, Karl Anderson, Andy Sherrard, Mitch Glaeser, Denise Hudson, Doug Jones, Svein Dyrkolbotn and John Carlson.

Carlson is chairman of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce; Doug Jones is the mayor of Archer and Mitch Glaeser sits on both the county and city panels.

Both of the committees will operate with sub-committees designated to work on specific recommendations and action items, according to the resolutions that created the groups. Neither committee allows for members to receive payment for serving and both group efforts have a sunset provision, according to the resolutions.

Both groups will forward recommendations to their respective governing bodies. The city’s panel will submit recommendations that will be placed on a city commission agenda and the city commission will determine if changes to the city’s code, rules and regulations or policies and practices are necessary or desirable, according to the Gainesville resolution.

The county recommendations, likewise, will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners for review and action.

Both groups will operate under the provisions of Florida laws, including opens meetings, ethics and public records provisions, according to the resolutions that created the groups.
Gainesville and Alachua County, aren’t alone in seeking better reputations in economic development efforts. Many cities, counties and states are actively developing plans to attract developers, and many are partnering with consultants. Gainesville has partnered with a San Francisco based consulting company, IDEO, to develop its strategy and implementation plans.
“We envision new companies and brands, and we design the products, services, spaces and interactive experiences that bring them to life,” IDEO reports.

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