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Achieving economic development means eliminating turf wars, competitiveness

May 17, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

The goal is simple — eliminate turf wars and any sense of competition between agencies and municipalities in economic development efforts.

The effort to reach that point is not so simple.

It will require a coming together of local agencies geared toward economic and workforce development to create an atmosphere geared toward the attraction and retention of businesses.

That was the message during a workshop Thursday in the Barbara Worth Golf Resort in which public and private sector and educational leaders talked about the potential for growth and ways to make it come to fruition.

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Foremost among the ideas was to create a united front — a sort of one-stop system so when a business takes interest in the Valley, in contacting one agency that business links to all key agencies that might help it succeed.

Organizers of Thursday's workshop said the idea was both to create a plan to unite economic and workforce development forces in the Valley and to make sure that plan is implemented. The organizers included the CalWORKs program, the state Employment Development Department, the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program and the Workforce Investment Board.

"We want to create a community action plan that will incorporate both the economic and workforce development in the short and long term," said Edwin Obergfell, a project manager for IVROP.

He added the goal is "to make sure (the plan) goes into implementation."

Part of the workshop was aimed at creating a team of leaders to keep those involved in the planning process focused.

Ultimately, the goal is to have a plan that can be presented to the county Board of Supervisors for its approval.

More than 100 public, private and educational leaders from throughout the Imperial Valley took part in the workshop.

They broke off into three groups; one dealt with creating avenues to identify, share and coordinate resources, a second dealt with establishing a common vision and action plan and the third discussed ways to "maximize" the one-stop concept.

Bill Davis, vice president of special projects for the California Association of Local Economic Development, was mediator of one of the groups.

"There is great opportunity to have mutual benefits and support the needs of the community by working together," Davis said to a reporter.

He said, however, if agencies are not working together toward a common goal that can affect local efforts.

"We have multiple agencies and multiple groups working on specific community issues," he said. "They may not be working well together."

Louis Fuentes, executive director of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp., a local nonprofit group that works on attracting business to the Valley, said agencies have to "have a united front."

Fuentes said such cooperation is going to be crucial if the Valley is to attract a cargo airport — a project that could bring up to 7,000 jobs. He added that both the county supervisors and the Imperial Irrigation District board have approved funding an $89,000 feasibility study on locating a cargo airport here.

Fuentes said based on the approvals by both boards, efforts to attract the airport are moving forward and agencies have to be prepared to work together to make the project happen. That means both workforce training agencies and economic development groups must be ready to move on the project.

Norma Jauregui, manager of the state Economic Development Department in the Valley, said the cargo airport is one opportunity, but there are others.

She said there are projects in the works such as the North Gate Plaza in El Centro and a developer interested in building a mall along Interstate 8. She said there are hotels being built and other projects that will bring both growth and jobs.

Still, Jauregui said agencies have to work together.

"There is a real awareness that if we don't start working together, we are never going to move forward," she said. "We've met and met and met and not been able to work together."

She said, though, that agencies have worked together to some extent, but for the Valley to see more growth, any hidden agendas and sense of competition are going to have be eliminated.

Obergfell said Thursday's meeting was one step. He said now the groups must continue to work and in the coming month another meeting will be conducted to finalize a plan and leadership.

He said if the group can keep up the momentum, draft a plan and implement it, "ultimately the Valley will win."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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