Home / Business / Mayor Ayoub wants to form an economic development task force

Mayor Ayoub wants to form an economic development task force

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub this week suggested the city look for volunteers to form an economic development task force to help stimulate economic growth, specifically in the downtown district.

Before he was elected in March, Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub promised to bring economic growth to the city, particularly to the popular but underutilized downtown district.

“If elected, I will lead this City with an exciting vision,” Ayoub, said during his opening remarks at the candidate forum in January. “This vision includes a more vibrant, and a more thriving, downtown which is desperately needed.”

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub.

During a goal-setting session in April, the City Commission agreed to find money in the budget to hire an economic development director to help stimulate growth.

But according Ayoub, that process could take too long, and during Monday night’s commission meeting, he suggested an plan to help expedite the process.

“I know we had discussions about hiring a full-time economic development officer,” the mayor said during his Commission Report. “At the time, we agreed to put some money in the budget to move forward with that idea, but that process, if it does come to fruition, is going to take a little bit of time.”

“I guess I’m getting a little impatient, but economic development is definitely a very high priority for me,” he continued. “So, I would like to propose that…we come up with an economic development task force that could start immediately.”

Ayoub’s plan is to have members from segments of the community, i.e. the Chamber of Commerce, civic boards, etc…, form a volunteer committee that would answer to the commission while seeking ways to stimulate economic growth.

“We can appoint somebody that can be our economic development liaison,” the mayor said, “and their mission would be to proactively shape our downtown and try and attract business that are consistent with our vision and our Downtown Master Plan.”

“The idea behind this is to be proactive,” Ayoub added. “We can sit back and be reactive and wait for businesses to come to us…or we can take a more proactive approach…in shaping the makeup of the downtown.”

Safety Harbor City Commissioner Scott Long.

Ayoub’s idea drew mixed reactions from his fellow lawmakers, with most expressing support for the plan, albeit with a healthy dose of checks and balances thrown in.

“Absolutely,” Commissioner Scott Long said when Ayoub asked who supported the proposal.

“I’m not wavering at all in my strong desire to have a full-time economic development director,” he added.

“But I do see something like this that’s very helpful, at least in the interim, at no cost to the City other than some time.”

Long, who was also elected in March, said he would like to see the committee composed of “community members who are experts in this field” with experience in public/private partnerships and commercial development, which Ayoub agreed with.

Commissioner Andy Zodrow and Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz also supported the idea, with Zodrow suggesting the commission come up with “clear duties and responsibilities” for the committee and Diaz stating he would like the group to have goals as well as a budget to be able to travel and connect with potential business partners.

Safety Harbor City Commissioner Cliff Merz.

“We should establish a budget for the committee to attend different exhibitions or conventions Diaz said. “So they’re not just making phone calls but actually meeting with people and traveling.”

As has typically been the case during his tenure, Commissioner Cliff Merz was the most vocal proponent of utilizing a cautious approach.

“I’m okay in general, but the initial concern that would come to mind is since its volunteer, the accountability,” Merz said. “I would just want to make sure a volunteer doesn’t just go off on their own.”

“I guess the concern is that they don’t go out and bring something back…that they’re very concise on the City’s vision,” he added, noting the commission still needs to work to define that vision.

Ayoub went on to say that he would like the task force to narrow its scope to a few select properties in the downtown district, including the long-vacant, white two-story building across from 500 Main Street.

“We can always change the scope, but to get started, let’s focus on 4 or 5 properties in the CRA where we want to see something,” he said. “If we communicate through the proper channels and offer some incentives to get things going, that may change the dialog.”

The recent relocation of Bar Fly Saltwater Grill to the corner spot at 100 Main Street should provide a boost to the local economy, but city officials are looking to further stimulate growth in the downtown district.

“My suggestion is we start with a narrow focus and we do it within the conceptual framework of our Downtown Master Plan.”

The five commissioners ultimately agreed to review the DTMP at the next meeting on August 7, and they directed staff to put together a volunteer application as well as an outline of specific goals for the task force to abide by.

“I know it’s a lot, but I think it will be good for all of us to get the word out there that we’re looking for someone to fill this position…so that we have a way of moving this thing forward,” Ayoub said.

What are your thoughts on this subject, Harborites? Should the City form a volunteer economic development task force, or wait and hire a candidate to fill the EDD position? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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  1. While any help in this area is a step in the right direction, we feel the city should do everything possible to hire the full time position as soon as possible. A volunteer board will not have the focus , time, or expertise required of the job. More and more cities hire this position because staff no longer have the time or expertise for the job. An Economic Development Director could also help oversee CRA activities, and current grant programs, while also pursuing many other grant programs that are available but never pursued.

  2. I concur with the proposal to set up a volunteer board to get the process rolling. Having the input from community members will give the incoming Exonomic Development Director a roadmap of what we want to see become of our city. This could be even more important if the position is filled by someone that is unfamiliar with the goals and priorities of our down town district and how we wish to see it grow.

  3. That is a great idea to get a task force going while going through the process of hiring an economic development director. First, it gets things moving now – versus later. Second it could provide the new director with a lot of information gathered by the committee so the new director doesn’t spend the first few months in their job doing background work the committee did.
    The key to committee success will be to make sure the bigger vision and goals are formulated first, giving direction and process to the committee. That will prevent having rogue committee members from freelancing and inviting businesses to downtown that are not the best fit to the big-picture economic model for the city. –> It should not just be about filling the empty spaces with any business who wants to locate here. The committee needs to take an inventory of the current types of businesses in town and then using best practices from thriving cities of the same size, determine what types of businesses we need to get the best balance that would improve economy of the downtown business district.

  4. I like the idea of an economic task force but I would like to see its purpose and guidelines clarified as well. Is it just to try to fill vacant properties on main street? To attract other business to move to Safety Harbor? To encourage entrepreneurship in the city? To propose changes to laws and zoning that could stimulate economic growth?

    There’s also no reason an economic task force couldn’t work under the direction of a full-time economic director once one is hired.

  5. It does take time to approve and hire a full time Economic Development Director so this is a great idea to get started. Too much time has been wasted the past few years and any overly-cautious city leader will only lead to additional vacancies. Go for it! You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.

  6. Born and raised in Clearwater I moved to Fort Myers 3 years ago and they have a redevelopment agency for downtown and it has done wonders over the years. As a new business owner they were a great deal of help of where to go, what to do, who to talk to, and what was coming down the pipes. Their doors were always open to the community. I feel that it would help safety harbor if that is your vision. Funny thing is that sometimes I tell them of all the wonderful things safety harbor is doing as well, especially in the ways you all support your local artists. Seems like 2 small downtown towns would benefit in a visit from each other!!!!

  7. This is very exciting! Drawing from our community with development expertise is a good way to begin but as long aa the committee adheres to the Master Plan. The Economic Development person needs to be hired as soon as possible so the committee can assist the employee and not the reverse.

  8. Getting the ball rolling this way is an excellent lead-in but we need to eventually hire a full-time expert to get the ultimate and necessary impact which is required for a vibrant downtown.

  9. As a local business owner, I am all for anything that moves us forward, toward a more balanced and thriving economy for Safety Harbor. I still believe that hiring an expert is a fantastic idea, but in the interim, using a team of educated local volunteers with a clear vision will definitely help to get the ball rolling.

  10. It makes sense to harness the brain power and expertise of residents who love Safety Harbor and may bring fresh ideas to thrir own community.

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