At its Wednesday meeting two weeks ago (Sept. 21), Monroe County commissioners approved an agreement that makes a $30,000 contribution to the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC).
The BEDC is a nonprofit that works to promote retention, development, and attraction of jobs.
The $30,000 agreement with the BEDC featured a rare non-unanimous vote by county commissioners, even if none of the three cast a vote in opposition.
Abstaining from the vote was president of the board of commissioners Julie Thomas.
Thomas indicated that she does not see how the payment improves Monroe County government’s clout with the BEDC.
Monroe County government already pays the BEDC $10,000 a year for memberships in the organization, so Thomas thinks county government already has “a seat at the table.”
But the two votes in favor, from Lee Jones and Penny Githens, were enough to approve the agreement with the BEDC.
The county council had already approved the $30,000 appropriation, as a part of the 2022 budget. Included in the 2023 budget is another $30,000, which will be adopted by the county council in a couple of weeks. At the board of commissioners meeting, two county councilors—Geoff McKim and Jennifer Crossley—weighed supporting the agreement between Monroe County and the BEDC.
Even while supporting the agreement with the BEDC, Jones and Githens expressed some concerns about the idea of growth in Monroe County. Githens said, “I don’t believe in unlimited growth, partly because we don’t have the water supply to support that.”
Jones wants to see “a viable community that is not dependent on growth.” She added, “Growth cannot go on forever. It just can’t…Even if it’s called sustainable growth, it’s not truly sustainable.”
In their initial pitches to the commissioners, McKim and BEDC president Jennifer Pearl showed they were familiar with the perspective they’d likely hear from commissioners—about growth generally and the commissioners’ interest in preservation.
McKim said the BEDC’s help is needed to “ensure that we preserve rural areas while growing our economy.”
Pearl said, “Knowing that the county has certain priorities in what it wants to advance and preserve in the community—that is something that needs to be considered very heavily in anything we’re supporting.”
When Githens weighed in against unlimited growth, Pearl responded with an allusion to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”: “We do not believe in growth for the sake of growth.” Pearl added, “Economic development is about creating great places to live, work and play—if you pave over paradise, that doesn’t help anyone.”
When Crossley weighed in, she touched on the issue of the difference between the city of Bloomington and the unincorporated parts of the county—all are residents of Monroe County. Crossley said the needs for quality of life and housing are no different in the city of Bloomington and the unincorporated parts of the county.
Thomas questioned what the $30,000 would actually buy for Monroe County government, given that it already has a seat at BEDC’s table in the form of membership.
McKim responded by saying, “This is paying to be a partner and to have the county’s voice really heard, not just one of many.” He added, “And the public sector needs to be a big partner in these activities. If we don’t, then there’s always the risk that the BEDC is driven more by their private sector members.”
Pearl confirmed that most of the BEDC’s members are private companies. “Our membership is currently majority private sector,” she said. Pearl added, “We sit at the intersection of these sectors and try to work with all of our local governments, with our higher education institutions, etc.”
One of the stipulations in the agreement between Monroe County and the BEDC is that Monroe County would receive two ex officio appointments to the BEDC executive committee. Thomas did not seem impressed, given that it’s a nonvoting seat. “I guess I still don’t see the difference. I’m sorry. I’m trying to understand how this changes our current relationship with the BEDC. It doesn’t.”
McKim responded by saying with the agreement in place, “We have the ability to be more demanding of them.” He added, “If there’s something that we absolutely need the BEDC to pay attention to, a perspective that we really need them to take into account, we just have more leverage as a partner than just one member out of many.”
As part of the agreement, the BEDC is supposed to deliver a report to Monroe County on the status of several activities: business retention, expansion, and attraction; Monroe County’s airport; technology-focused employment; Bloomington Life Sciences Partnership; and entrepreneurship support.
The BEDC is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization with revenue in 2020 totaling about $450,000, from contributions and payments for services, based on its Form 990 filing with the IRS.