Commissioners receptive to development director idea

2013-04-24T17:17:00Z Commissioners receptive to development director ideaBy LEANN ECKROTH | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

 

A new business development director position may be added to reshape how Bismarck drums up business for the city.

City Commissioner Mike Seminary said Tuesday that he wants the commission to explore hiring someone with a salary ranging from $85,000 to $105,000. The commission will discuss the proposal during its 2014 budgeting process this summer and might have the new position start January 2014.

Seminary said the city would likely continue to contribute to the Bismarck Mandan Development Association and work with it, but the city may decrease its $330,000 payment to the group.

“This is to complement what the BMDA does,” Seminary said. “This market has changed dramatically. Many funding mechanisms we have relied on for years are changing,” he said.

A city business director would replace the city’s Vision Fund Board and take over its responsibilities, Seminary said. The board is funded through city sales tax revenue. In Seminary’s experience, the Vision Fund Board has only paid for BMDA’s annual fees and supports the IDEA Center which assists entrepreneurial businesses.

He said that the business director would report directly to the city commission, sift markets for recruiting corporations, assist in keeping businesses and start up activities to create new jobs.

Seminary said the ideal candidate should have a master’s degree and least seven years’ experience in a proven economic business and/or economic development.

The BMDA has provided economic development services to Bismarck, Mandan, Morton County and Burleigh County since 1979.

In August 2012, the Burleigh County Commission voted to discontinue its annual payment of $75,000 to the BMDA. It previously paid $100,000 per year to the BMDA. The city of Mandan and Morton County each pay $100,000 to the economic development group.

Russ Staiger, director of the BMDA, said Wednesday that BMDA’s future role in economic development for Bismarck depends on discusson between city leaders and the organization. “We all want what’s best for the community.” Staiger said he had limited details about what Seminary was proposing.

When asked about Bismarck possibly lowering its $330,000 per year payment to the BMDA, Staiger said “I hope it would not come to that. I believe the BMDA has returned more benefits to the city than what it has received.” He credits the organization for attracting larger companies to Bismarck — Aetna/U.S. Healthcare/ Unisys, Coventry Health Care, Sykes. It also has helped expand of dozens of other smaller businesses.

Staiger said all of these companies have added large numbers of good-paying jobs. Their workers have contributed to the purchasing power of the city, he said.

City commissioners were agreeable to studying the new position at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

“This idea has some appeal to me. We all appreciate what BMDA has done and we’ll want to continue to work closely with BMDA on those joint projects that most specifically support Bismarck,” said city commissioner Parrell Grossman. “But I do think the goals of this position remain somewhat different. BMDA has become somewhat of regional entity, a multi-community entity. I like the focus of this position on Bismarck.”

He likened the proposal to Mandan’s economic development director position. He said the commission needed to gauge if there is support for the new position among staff, commissioners, administration and the community. “The idea has a great deal of merit,” Grossman said.

“I am thinking about what is best for the city of Bismarck and the people we represent,” Seminary said. “Given the landscape of the economy locally, regionally and nationally, we are in a position where we need to have someone that serves the public and private sector and their drivers more efficiently for the city of Bismarck and still work with the BMDA.”

Commissioner Brenda Smith said it was “a great idea and something we definitely should be considering.”

Reach LeAnn Eckroth at 701-250-8264 or leann.eckroth@bismarcktribune.com.

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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