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IDA setting strategic course for its future
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Members of the Effingham Industrial Development Authority believe they have a vision of what they want to accomplish and what it may take to get those done, after finishing discussing their strategic plan.

Along with the strategic plan, which outlined the IDA’s objectives, also finalized was a capital improvement plan.

"We’ve had a lot of discussion about the plan," IDA CEO John Henry said.

The IDA has had three workshops over the last few weeks, beginning with a session that lasted nearly five and a half hours.

"We were able to categorize every goal listed by the board over the last year," Henry said.

"This has been an ongoing process for the last year," said IDA member Rose Harvey. "It’s interesting to see how those original issues get defined. It makes me think where it needs to be and what the goal is."

The IDA listed its three chief goals as creating jobs and reducing unemployment to the greatest extent in Effingham County; improving and expanding upon the industrial and commercial components of the tax digest; and developing and maintaining a community relations plan.

The capital improvement plan, a much larger document, assessed how close the IDA’s various holdings are to being marketed to potential prospects and what it would take to get them ready.

"You’ve got to have sites, and you’ve got to have capital to attract industries to grow jobs," Henry said.

The IDA’s southern tract at I-16, about 200 acres, is seen as being close to "shovel ready," meaning much of the due diligence has been performed but it is just short of being termed "pad ready."

The northern tract, which is approximately 1,550 acres, is not nearly as far along to being ready to market to prospects. The IDA also is working on the wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and Henry said it could be 18 months before the road is built.

"We’re stuck in the mud in a lot of things," IDA member Chap Bennett said.

Added Henry: "These things are such a long process."

The IDA would like to build an access road to its northern tract at I-16 and has been in negotiations to acquire the land to build a straighter road than it could on its own property. The route through its own property to access the heart of the northern tract could take $2 million to construct.

"One of the biggest issues that came out of the last meeting was the metrics and expectations," said Henry. "What are the benchmarks and measurements? If you build a road to the I-16 tract, you build a road. But if you don’t, you need to list why you didn’t and what those hurdles are."

Henry said the IDA conducted a traffic study last year on the Research Forest Tract.

"There’s stuff going on all the time," he said. "If we have a capital improvement plan, it will be a document in flux. But it will allow us to track easier what’s going on."

"It is a good road map," board member Jimmy Wells said of the capital improvement plan.

The IDA will review its strategic plan at its July meeting, when its fiscal year commences. Board members also are weighing what can be done to allow the IDA’s staff time and resources to court potential industries.

IDA project manager Ryan Moore pointed out that when the board adopted the timber management plan, it allowed the staff and the board to focus on other decisions.

"It freed us up not to have that before the board," he said.

Board members also wanted to get the strategic and capital improvement plans done in order to get another task off the staff’s desks.

"We don’t need to spend any more time working on this document," Wells said. "We need to reference that document, turn them loose and let them get it done."

Since the IDA only meets monthly, getting full board approval for certain items can take time.

IDA Chairman Dennis Webb said referencing the capital improvement plan into the strategic plan could help the staff with its job.

"It will give us the ability to make board-level decisions and let the staff implement it, without getting into the minutiae," Webb said."

"It’s not like we’re giving staff carte blanche," Harvey said. "We’ve talked about it; we’ve beaten it to death. Let’s go ahead and do it."

Bennett said the IDA is short on manpower, and that shortage isn’t fair to the staff or to the board.

"This organization has grown over the last six years, and the staff hasn’t grown one bit," Bennett said.

Board members also expressed what they wanted the IDA to become and what the focus should be.

"I don’t want to lose sight — the development of sites and getting users on the ground is our strategic plan," Bennett said.

"We need to become a property development organization," said IDA member Dick Knowlton, "or we can’t be successful. We’ve been half-entity and half-sales. The allocation of time and capital has been difficult."

Knowlton advocated letting private developers lead the push to land prospects for small- and medium-sized sites. He had been president of the Savannah Economic Development Authority when it created the Crossroads Business Park near the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.

"SEDA got away from being a formal IDA and got to being a property development organization," he said. "We’re either going to achieve or we’re going to keep frustrating ourselves and frustrating John and the staff."