UPDATED 1:05 pm. with Stan Bond's comments, below.
It was the talk of economic development professionals up and down the Fox Valley Wednesday.
The Oswego Village Board’s 4-2 decision Tuesday to hold off on funding the village’s portion—an investment that totals $85,000— of the Oswego Economic Development Corporation for next year was a surprise to many.
The board will discuss whether to bring its economic development efforts in-house at its May 3 meeting, but until then, the OEDC is in limbo. The village provides the public-private partnership with 35 percent of its roughly $400,000 annual budget, so even if the board does not reinstate those funds, the OEDC is not necessarily finished.
But bringing those functions under complete village control would be a seismic shift in the way economic development is handled in Oswego. And the news had other directors of economic development corporations wondering just how the change might affect them.
Charlene Coulombe-Fiore, executive director of the , said Wednesday that she is not worried the same thing will happen to her. The MEDC is now in its eighth year, and the village has shown strong support for it, she said.
The village has provided the MEDC with an annual grant every year of its existence, and that investment totals $607,500, according to village records. Though the current economic situation has taken its toll on that grant—it dropped from $100,000 in 2006 to $55,000 in 2011.
But the village has continued to fund the MEDC. And the 2012 budget, which trustees approved last week, contains that annual grant— at the same level as 2011.
“It seems to me (economic development) is what we should be concentrating on,” said Village President Marilyn Michelini, who described the Oswego decision as “a big blow to me.”
Michelini said the village has no plans to bring economic development in-house. She pointed to several recent economic development successes, including the Menards store at Ogden Point and the Walmart on Orchard Road, and said it is “very important” for Montgomery to have someone representing the village with the business community.
“I am 100 percent behind the MEDC,” she said. “Our director Char is doing a great job.”
Trustee-elect Matt Brolley agreed. He said he was shocked to read of Oswego's decision, and called it "disheartening."
"I absolutely support our MEDC," he said. "So much of what they do doesn't hit the papers."
Brolley, until recently a member of the Greater Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce—he resigned when he was elected to the Village Board on April 5—has worked closely with the MEDC for years. He suggested that every trustee on the Village Board should spend some time seeing what the MEDC does.
"Anyone has the right to suggest things like that," he said of Oswego's decision. "But I think there is tremendous worth to our MEDC."
But Trustee Andy Kaczmarek said there is merit in Oswego’s proposal. He said it could save the village money on an outside contractor, and save on rent, since the MEDC would no longer need an office outside Village Hall.
Plus, he said, elected officials likely would hold more weight with businesses looking to locate in Montgomery than outside economic development employees would.
“It’s more impressive if it’s the mayor coming to you, as opposed to an MEDC member,” Kaczmarek said.
And Trustee-Elect Stan Bond said his support of the MEDC is conditional.
"We need a greater focus on industrial, technical and professional jobs," Bond said. "If the MEDC can deliver results in those areas with its current makeup and structure, then I support it. If we do not soon see success in these areas, then I think we need to look at other options that will deliver high value jobs and careers to Montgomery."
The MEDC is a non-profit corporation funded largely through its members. The corporation counts more than 40 local businesses as investors, and each pays between $300 and $5,000 a year.
Coulombe-Fiore said she sees advantages and disadvantages in Oswego’s plan. Bringing economic development in-house could lead to more funding for development efforts, and since it would mean hiring more economic development professionals, it would mean better salaries and benefits for those who coordinate those efforts.
“We’re already working harder than we’ve ever worked,” she said. “Positively, it could bring us more support from elected officials and the administration.”
One downside of the Oswego situation, Coulombe-Fiore said, is it forces economic development directors to spend time justifying their existences, instead of doing their jobs. During its eight years, she said, the MEDC has taken point on a number of important initiatives, including the widening of Orchard Road between Jericho Road and Route 30.
The MEDC helped persuade members of the business community to write letters to Kane County and the state, pushing for the project, she said. The widening is for this year.
The MEDC also has worked with major players like Caterpillar and , striving to keep the jobs they provide in Montgomery. And the corporation does much behind the scenes, Coulombe-Fiore said, working with businesses and residential developers alike.
“Montgomery has so much potential,” she said. “If we have the opportunity to stay here and the village continues to fund us, more positive things could happen.”