County backs vitality plan
If economic development is a fight, a fight against recession and stagnation, then Douglas County has lined up a host of “champions” to take the fight to the next level.
“A champion is a citizen who has a passion about the project,” said John Endter, owner of E Squared C, and overall champion of the county’s new vitality plan. “They are the people who stay awake at night in bed thinking about tomorrow and how to overcome that next hurdle.”
On Monday, Douglas County commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the 12-year Douglas County Economic Vitality Strategy and Action Plan, which entails three focus areas and a dozen priority projects.
Each project has a champion, a volunteer who oversees and steers that project’s development with a small team of like-minded individuals and at least one county employee.
The difference between this and other plans in the past, Endter said, is the advantage the private sector has over government when it comes to information, access and resources.
“Organizations don’t do projects, people do,” he said. “This plan really focuses on the people part.”
Champions will have a direct line to the county manager, Endter said, and teams will stay small and focused until projects are completed.
“It’s a 12-year plan,” he said. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow, not next week, not in two years.”
Out of a dozen projects, four were described as “fired up,” including the Genoa destination campaign with champion Dave Whitgob, Main Street Gardnerville with champion Paula Lochridge, the Ascent Douglas business recruiting effort with champion Jim Slade, and sport aviation development at the airport with champion Linda Mae Draper.
Projects “gaining altitude” are public trails, Tahoe and Minden revitalization, and a multigenerational community center. Projects farther on the horizon include maximization of Western Nevada College, an energy science park, a new look at K-12 education, and “inspired mobility,” or innovative transportation projects such as a gondola to the Lake.
Relating to education, GE Energy’s Brian Palmer was named champion of the college and energy park projects, and Ray Sidney of Big George Ventures was named champion of K-12 education.
However, Douglas County has no direct control over higher education or the Douglas County School District, which has its own board of trustees, superintendent and budget.
Acknowledging this fact, economic development consultant Karen Craig said, “The county has to offer support and have the ability to ask and bring resources together.”
In regards to the multigenerational center, long-time senior advocate Paul Lockwood questioned why no seniors were placed on the project committee. Rather, the team consists of champion Janice Rice, Steve Lewis, Travis Lee and Brian Fitzgerald.
“I think you’re overlooking 30 percent of the population by not involving seniors in this program,” Lockwood said. “We’ve been fighting for a senior center for how long, and not one senior is on this committee?”
In response, county commissioner Nancy McDermid said that she herself is a senior.
“Our demographics are such that we need each generation to be represented,” she said. “I don’t want seniors to feel left out because that means I’m left out.”
Nevertheless, proponents view the plan as an overall alignment of variable forces, a concerted effort to bring all factions to the table.
“We the government do not drive the economy; the private sector drives the economy,” said County Manager T. Michael Brown. “We can’t be pointing our guns in different directions. We need to be pointed in the same direction.”
Brown called the plan ambitious but realistic. He said the county’s role will be building public-private partnerships while leveraging resources along the way.
“We feel good about the way we’ve changed our business process to be more responsive and communicative,” he said. “We want people to be here who want to be here, who embrace the ideals of our community.”
Economic Vitality Manager Lisa Granahan laid out five imperatives to guide the plan: improve the business climate, attract businesses that are unique and marketable, enhance education and workforce, preserve the natural environment and improve infrastructure, and maintain the county’s quality of life.
As if to offer proof to theory, Granahan announced that two new companies are relocating to Douglas County in October: TechSpec, which manufactures motorcycle grip pads, tank grips and traction pads (4 employees); and EMCO High Voltage Corporation, which designs and manufactures high voltage power supplies (15-20 employees).
“These are examples of what partnerships can do and will do for us,” Granahan said.
County commissioners welcomed the news with party poppers.
“We’re expecting a great deal out of our champions,” said Chairman Mike Olson. “We saw them tonight, they’ve been displayed and named, so they can’t hide.”
“Implementation is the key,” added commissioner Dave Brady. “It’s important that as we move forward, we do what we can to support the champions.”
Commissioner Greg Lynn supported the plan, but urged his colleagues to proceed carefully.
“We need to be careful what we wish for,” he said. “This is a cowboy town, but it won’t be a cowboy town when all this is said and done.”