The new face of economic development in Auburn and Cayuga County could be the Cayuga Economic Development Agency, the organization created two years ago to serve as the first stop for businesses hoping to locate and stay in Cayuga County.
The 15 elected officials of the Auburn City Council and the Cayuga County Legislature met jointly Wednesday night to discuss the best procedure for creating a lasting one-stop economic development agency to attract and retain businesses within the county’s borders.
CEDA Chair Kelley Gridley asked the officials to build an agency with the consolidated authority and information to offer benefits to prospective businesses.
"For example, we're currently negotiating with a prospective business for the Aurelius industrial park and competing with other counties, including Onondaga," she said. "Right now (CEDA Executive Director Terry Masterson) has to contact many individuals to put a proposal together, and he isn’t able to provide many concrete numbers as requested. The competing county has all that information available, including an inventory of sites and the cost of doing business in the city and county.
"We need to have an organization that is proactive instead of reactive that has the power to negotiate with clients."
James Dacey and Vijay Mital, chairs of the Auburn Industrial Development Authority and the Cayuga County Industrial Development Agency, expressed support for joining forces on economic development and stressed the importance of commitments and cooperation between the city and the county.
"To be successful, we have to look at having a one-stop organization for development," Mital said. "Right now, there’s competition between the city and the county."
The officials invited Mike Stamm, the president of the Tompkins County Economic Development Corp., to discuss how his organization successfully functions to promote growth.
Stamm said the nonprofit corporation's five-person staff works with businesses to provide planning services and economic incentives across the county.
A 30-member board of directors made up of elected officials and industry representatives is tasked with setting the specific development goals for Tompkins County and the municipalities within it.
"The board is purely to set goals and strategy, they don’t expect full details of the project until it's a done deal," Stamm said. "During the rest of the process, they step back and let the professional staff do their work."
Stamm said the structure allows the private organization to coordinate development efforts and offer incentives and protects the confidentiality of businesses’ interests by keeping negotiations out of public meetings.
Most of the officials agreed that CEDA was a good candidate to serve as a similar organization. The nonprofit 501(c)3 currently has a professional staff of two and a 15-member board of directors made of elected and appointed officials and business representatives.
"I think it's definitely a good place to start," City Councilor Matthew Smith said. "We need a place that has answers at one stop and knows what incentives are available."
Masterson, Cayuga County Planning Department Director Stephen Lynch and Auburn Planning Director Jennifer Haines agreed that delegating economic development activities to CEDA would benefit all parties if done properly.
"I clearly think you've talked a lot tonight about concept of one Cayuga," Masterson said. "The answer to that is to have one IDA, one utility agency and one economic development board with the legal and administrative abilities of all the boards."
Legislator Cynthia Aikman suggested that, instead of going through the lengthy process of seeking the needed approval from the state Legislature to dissolve one of the IDA boards, the two municipalities should agree to allow one to go dormant.
"Trying to go to the Legislature will take years for us, and I don't want to wait years anymore," she said. "As we move forward, we should think about maintaining the boards and allow one to go quiet, but still act as if there's only one."
According to Mital, the CCIDA has the authority to approve benefits to businesses both inside the city and in the unincorporated areas in the county, and could serve as the active board under CEDA's purview.
Lynch proposed that CEDA's 15-member board of directors act in a similar function to Tompkins County's and its staff be increased to four full-time employees to handle requests from businesses.
As a private organization, the makeup and staffing of CEDA would be up to its board of directors.
A majority of the elected officials from both municipalities expressed favorable opinions of Lynch's proposal, with only City Councilor John Camardo refusing to express an opinion because Lynch's organizational proposal was not passed on to the councilors before the meeting.
"I think this puts us on a good footing for the next meeting," Legislator Dave Axton said. "It seems like we're making progress and reaching a consensus."