The Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce could provide an office for the Industrial Development Board, store its files, prepare its meeting minutes and agendas, and take care of its accounting under a proposal endorsed Monday.
The Chamber would do the work for $25,000 per year, IDB Chair David Wilson told board members.
The hiring of the Chamber would come amid a shifting economic development environment in Oak Ridge that has resulted in a funding cut for the Chamber of Commerce and a plan to make dormant the roughly decade-old Oak Ridge Economic Partnership.
The city has hired two economic development consultants, Ray Evans and Steve Jones, and two members of the Economic Partnership, Kim Denton and Kathy Barber, have been laid off. The Economic Partnership is a support corporation for the Chamber.
In a voice vote Monday, five IDB members agreed to have a memorandum of understanding drafted between the IDB and Chamber, have the city and Chamber attorneys review it, and let Wilson sign it if he and Chamber President Parker Hardy can reach an agreement.
“All we’re trying to do is pull it together and organize it,” Wilson said.
Right now, he said, IDB files are scattered all over the place in paper and electronic form.
The IDB could meet at the Chamber or continue meeting at the Municipal Building. Calls to the IDB office could be routed to the city consultants.
“I look at this as a work in progress,” Wilson said.
He said more than $900,000 has been spent at the Horizon Center Business Park in west Oak Ridge in the last few years, and two sites have been certified there, one by the state and one by the Tennessee Valley Authority. There could be a big economic payoff, Wilson said, but the city needs professionals working on its behalf in its pursuit of a larger tax base and more jobs.
IDB members estimated the new arrangement would cost the board an additional $18,000 to $20,000 per year because the board now pays $28 per hour for help from the city staff and another $4,000 for bookkeeping.
After the meeting, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said he thinks economic development officials have generated a good agreement and are well-prepared for retail, industrial, and commercial opportunities.
Watson told the IDB he will meet biweekly with Hardy, Evans, and Jones.
“We want to simplify,” he said. “We want to be fast.”
Voting for the proposed agreement between the IDB and Chamber were Wilson and IDB members Lou Dunlap, Richard Chinn, Chris Johnson, and Hal Osucha.
Johnson and Chinn both said the agreement with the Chamber was necessary, especially with the recent changes in local economic development organizations.
“It’s just almost a have-to,” Johnson said. “I think that is the only natural partnership I can think of.”
“If we’re sincere about industrial recruiting, this is a no-brainer,” Chinn said.