Nevada County Economic Resource Council won’t hire new executive director | SierraSun.com

Nevada County Economic Resource Council won’t hire new executive director

Liz Kellar lizk@theunion.com

“We took our playing cards and threw them up in the air — now we’re reshuffling them back on the table.”

That was Economic Resource Council chair Mary Owens’ colorful description of the reorganization currently underway at the ERC, during the council’s board meeting Thursday.

Right off the bat, Owens answered the question of who will replace former Executive Director Jon Gregory, who stepped down in June.

The answer was no one, at least for the foreseeable future. Owens said the position would not be filled until July of next year at the earliest.

“When Jon came on, the ERC had a great need for his skill sets and he accomplished some extraordinary things,” Owens said, pointing to the Green Screen Institute and the Connected Communities Academy.

The tech initiatives came out of a feasibility study and an employer survey and were vitally important to the economic health of Nevada County, she said.

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But once Gregory resigned, the ERC needed to re-think how it accomplished its goals given its “very small” budget.

As Owens explained it, the director was being asked to accomplish too many different tasks. So the board opted to restructure completely and instead contract out different pieces of the puzzle.

“Before, each committee worked on a piece,” she said. “We decided we wanted to hire experts in each area, who will coordinate among themselves.

“Why replicate something that is already available?” Owens continued. “They’re extremely good at what they do. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”

As part of this new approach, the ERC has contracted with the Sierra Business Council to open an office that will be open two days a week, providing assistance to existing businesses within Nevada County, and also to help compile metrics, data needed to market the county to new businesses and to tourists and to improve the grant-writing process. The ERC also has joined the Greater Sacramento Economic Council as part of a multi-county effort to recruit new businesses to the region.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity,” Owens said of joining the council, which hosts four annual recruitment events along with workshops, forums and receptions throughout the year.

Recruitment of new business will be the mandate of a third contract, with 310 Ltd., which will create a targeted marketing approach for all of Nevada County.

The intent is to work with the gathered metrics to create a strong message, Owens said, creating a Facebook landing page that ties into other community pages, as well as targeted email blasts.

Former Executive Director Larry Burkhardt has been brought in to help compile those metrics, as well as to rebuild the ERC’s investor/partner base and to create a funding campaign.

Owens stressed that the restructuring does not mean the ERC is abandoning its commitment to its tech initiatives, including the academy, Talent Connection and NC Tech Connection.

It’s important to continue the focus on tech, and Kristin York at the Sierra Business Council will be tasked with going after grants to expand those programs, Owens said.

Promoting tourism will be an important component of the ERC’s focus, with an emphasis on social media, production of a video and participation in a new glossy Destinations magazine being produced by the county’s chambers of commerce.

The lack of housing in Nevada County is a major stumbling block that will be addressed, Owens promised.

“There’s no simple solution,” she said, citing lack of financing options, lack of buildable land, stringent environmental regulations and lack of infrastructure as just a few of the issues.

The ERC plans to work with contractors and developers to identify potential building sites that could be developed at a lower cost, as well as to itemize the housing projects already in the pipeline and identify what might be holding them up.

All the new contracts are inter-related and intended to work together to create a comprehensive strategy for the ERC, Owens said, adding, “We’re trying to break down all the walls of the silos.”

Reallocating the ERC’s resources this way, she said, will give the council the ability to leverage the assets its has and grow its initiatives, while it works to secure additional revenue to be able to hire a director that is a certified economic developer.