There’s an old saying in sports: Never mess with a winning streak.
But Saratoga County is doing exactly that, taking a giant step backward in its highly successful approach to economic development by creating a new local development corporation to compete with an existing one.
Businesses interested in coming to an area don’t want to shop through an alphabet soup of LDCs, IDAs, EDCs, BIDs, chambers of commerce and other organizations to find locations, grants and tax breaks for their projects.
Governments have begun to realize this and have begun consolidating duplicating and competing efforts. But Saratoga County is going in the opposite direction, casting aside a fruitful 35-year relationship with the Saratoga County Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) and creating yet another layer of government for prospective businesses to wade through. (Overlapping economic development agencies is what placed Schenectady County in the crosshairs of a state Authorities Budget Office auditor three years ago.)
Even though the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors eliminated SEDC’s funding last year, apparently over a membership dispute, the corporation remains very active. The last thing the county needs in this competitive economy is for two agencies to be wrestling each other for the privilege of attracting the county’s business.
Many Saratoga County businesses, including GlobalFoundries and other existing companies, already know SEDC as the point-agency for development in the county and are used to dealing with it. SEDC has a long history, a solid reputation and had more than 325 members and investors as of 2013.
County officials have expressed support for a “fresh take” on economic development that includes capitalizing on the “next wave” of development. Nothing wrong with that. In a fairly detailed Economic Development Strategic Plan, they called for more shovel-ready sites, business clusters and entrepreneurial growth. As evidenced by the county’s economic success, it has the foundation in place to achieve those goals already.
In addition to being duplicative, the new LDC is going to be expensive. The $500,000 the county is allocating to it is thousands more than what it was paying to support the SEDC. And costs tend to escalate when backs are turned.
Some kind of agreement needs to be reached. Since the SEDC has been so successful, perhaps it could be incorporated into the new strategic plan, whether it be through redefining the SEDC’s functions to meet the new goals or expanding it to include areas that would be covered by an LDC.
County officials must rethink the harmful impact of having two economic development agencies operating in competition and reconsider whether completely abandoning the successful old approach is really the best way to maintain a winning streak.