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Updated: 03/14/2013 08:03:13AM

City, chamber doing the right things

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The Lake Wales City Commission and the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce are very close to reaching an agreement that holds the promise of creating jobs, raising tax revenue for the city and improving the local economy.

A few weeks ago, our local chamber proposed an idea that would create an economic development council in Lake Wales. The city and the chamber would pool resources to fund the concept and the group would be charged with finding new businesses to locate to our city and help new businesses expand.

Cities in Lakeland, Winter Haven, Haines City, and others throughout Florida have EDCs that allow government and the private sector to work together to broaden the economic base of their communities.

The chamber approached the city now because the group’s executive director, Betty Wojcik, is retiring in a few months and the group thought that if the city and the chamber partnered on this then the chamber could advertise for and hire an economic development director who could run the EDC and the chamber of commerce.

The chamber has done a good job coming up with the proposal and the city has done a great job going over the details and recommending changes that would make the idea better and providing safeguards for the city’s taxpayers. That is what we expect our city commissioners to do and they have done so admirably.

Some of the ideas that our commissioners came up with in order to make the proposal better include:

- Making sure that the city can terminate the contract with the chamber in a reasonable fashion. The chamber initially asked for a two-year contract. Mayor Mike Carter wanted the contract to have a six-month cancellation clause in the agreement. That probably is too short of a term if the newly formed EDC is going to attract a quality candidate to the position.

However, the contract, as currently being proposed, has a clause that states that if the city cuts all of the funding from its budget, then the agreement is null and void. So, in essence the city has a one-year cancellation clause in the agreement and that should be adequate to protect the city’s taxpayers and allow the EDC to go get a qualified director to move here with their family.

- The city is also looking at how some of the other tasks that the current economic development director does in the city that are not directly related to economic development. The city’s leaders say that current economic development director Harold Gallup is tasked with overseeing things like the city’s airport and writing some grant proposals. It would seem to us that the city manager could find a way to have other city employees take over those grant writing duties, especially since there are not a lot of them.

- Commissioner Lutton said he would be more comfortable if the EDC was a stand-alone organization and did not have to come under the umbrella of the Chamber of Commerce. We agree and think the chamber of commerce would like that, too. However, many of the EDCs in our area and throughout the state started out the same way as is being proposed here and eventually were able to become independent. It would be good to state that goal in the agreement so that each year the city could ask how close we are to reaching that goal.

The city and the chamber are close to reaching an agreement. We are proud of our city commissioners for listening and making the proposal better. We hope they are able to finish the negotiation and get down to the business of attracting new business to the city.