During last week’s Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission, a discussion item on the agenda talked about the possibility of creating an Economic Development Director (EDD) position.
The Sheet talked this week with both Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez and Mayor Matthew Lehman for more details on the idea. According to MMM, the EDD position would build upon work already done by the Town’s Community development staff, the Planning Commission and Town Council.
“A lot has already been done in the area of planning,” she explained. “A lot of good ideas, plans and concepts have been created; now we need to implement all these great plans and ideas, with an emphasis on business attraction and retention.” Lehman added that the new job would take on both roles, since they tend to overlap anyway.
Where would the dollars come from to fund the position? Right now, there is no line item for the proposed position in the Town’s budget, but MMM and Lehman made the case that the money is already there. Currently the Town has budgeted for a Town Manager (MMM) and an Assistant Town Manager, another position that, along with the Community Development Director and Principal Planner posts, is vacant. The Assistant Town Manager position would be eliminated, and some of that line item reallocated to upgrade the old Principal Planner job to a director level position, essentially creating the EDD post out of those two positions.
The remaining dollars from the Assistant Town Manager position would be used to fund a full-time Budget Analyst and a second Transient Occupancy Tax Compliance position. According to both MMM and Lehman, there is no “new money” being put into the position, and it would have no impact on the Town’s current 5-year restructuring plan.
“We need to be proactive and find out the needs of the community,” Lehman stated. “It’s been discussed internally previously, and somewhat evolved out of the Economic Stimulus Council. What do we want to see here, how do we get it? We’ve been looking at each other, waiting for something to happen. Now we need to look at gaps and how do we fill them.”
MMM said the important thing for the public to bear in mind about the EDD idea is that it’s not about marketing or tourism. Those, she said, already have their functions and agencies. The EDD’s job would be to focus on businesses, both the attraction and retention components. “Businesses have vacancies, some have shrunk, some have closed or left,” she pointed out. “This is about how do we bring in more, different types of businesses and keep the ones we have healthy, vibrant, thriving.”
Lehman suggested the EDD would be important to the Town’s Main Street Development Plan. The EDD, he posited, could assist with blight and vacant buildings, and go for grants to redevelop parts of town and bring them more into line with the General and Neighborhood Specific plans.
According to MMM, this would be a job that’s really never been done here before, at least not in recent memory. Lehman said the last time he can remember any formal approach to economic development goes back at least to Wardlaw’s CDD predecessor, Mike Vance.
MMM mentioned an EDD success story in Oakland, which successfully redeveloped a section of that city using a mix of new auto dealerships and tax credit incentives to attract strategic businesses. Lehman also described the Bayshore Mall redevelopment in Glendale, Wisc., which was built on a landfill and was rundown until the city government partnered with private developers and revitalized that property.
“What to do with the property at Mammoth Yosemite Airport is a good example,” MMM said. “Land is a tool for enticement for businesses, either for attraction or retention, and it should be one of the tools in our toolbox,” she suggested.
Another facet of the EDD idea is developing formal incentive policies. “If a business is deciding between Mammoth and another city, how do we tip the scales in our favor?” she asked rhetorically.
A few years ago, a major data security firm considered but ultimately rejected basing itself in Mammoth, which would have generated about 80 jobs at $100,000 a year or more, Lehman said. Among the reasons given for the company not opening here were lack of high-speed Internet service (Digital 395 wasn’t on the horizon at the time) and the Town not being friendly and open enough. That perception, he added, could be alleviated with a strong EDD person.
“It would also diversify the tax base and help take some pressure off the TOT side of revenue, which would be a big help in bad snow seasons, such as the one we went through last winter,” Lehman opined.
The question has surfaced as to whether this is a wise notion, given the Town’s economic challenges, and if the job might be handled with existing staff. MMM and Lehman think the positives outweigh any negatives. Without an EDD, MMM indicated, new business isn’t likely to come here and others might leave. “We’ve cut as much as we can. We need to grow ourselves and having an EDD person is a way to help us do that,” Lehman said.
MMM said she expects the search and hiring process to be “all inclusive,” involving input on the job description and recruitment plan from the Town Council and the Planning Commission, as well as a community panel that would include various stakeholders. She added that the search would be nationwide. No timeline for the position has been set, although the Town hopes to have a finalist identified by July 1.