Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” blares through the speakers. I reach to turn off my alarm clock.
I get dressed and prepare to report the big news of the day.
For the first time ever, representatives from all the government entities are gathering to seek a vision of Dearborn County’s future.
Legend has it, if they see their shadows, there will be six years of slow economic growth. If it is cloudy, however, there will be six years of booming economic growth.
Wait. That can’t be right. Not unless I am Bill Murray in the Dearborn County version of Groundhog Day.
Sometimes, I wonder if I am.
Time machine trip
In Groundhog Day, Murray’s reporter character wakes up and relives the same day over and over again. For me it might not be every day, but the topic of vision planning, in its many forms, seems to pop up somewhere in this county at least once a year.
I can live with some repetitiveness, but the cost of this latest vision, apparently is going to tip the scales at over $600,000.
What is immediately frustrating me about this latest vision, in addition to the high cost, are claims this is the first time everyone in the county has worked closely together to create such a plan.
Let’s jump in my time machine and take a little trip to the past. Dial it back to February 2003.
What do we see here? It is a document entitled Dearborn County Vision 2022: A Report to the Community. Interesting.
(Click here if you would like to read along.)
Here is a list of the steering committee members. Who is represented? County commissioners, Town of St. Leon, chamber of commerce, county council, City of Greendale, Town of Dillsboro, City of Lawrenceburg, City of Aurora, various businesses, a utility company, nonprofit organizations, a farmer.
Of course, arguments could always be made that any committee may or may not be a true cross section of an area, but overall it looks like all the major government entities are represented, except the Town of West Harrison.
Participating organizations include Realtors, county ministerial association, farm bureau, township trustees, two high school student councils, life squad alliance. There also were surveys sent to the general public.
So I must ask- if one of the reasons this new visioning process is so different and special, is everyone working together, what exactly took place in 2003? Did it just appear everyone was working together? Was it just a big waste of time and money? If that was the case, why should anyone be convinced this time around will be any different?
In the report it states, “Vision participants also observed that an interesting by-product of the Vision process seems to be a new spirit of cooperation among the groups that traditionally have not worked together as well as they might.”
“A new spirit of cooperation.” That was practically the same phrasing used during a Nov. 6 gathering for the new visioning process held at the riverfront Ivy Tech building, Lawrenceburg.
Apparently this spirit of cooperation is like a phoenix, rising from the ashes of a previous plan either neglected or gone wrong.
Dial it back again
Another reason given for the uniqueness of this new visioning plan is the addition of a marketing plan.
Uh oh. I feel myself being pulled back in the time machine again.
Where is the dial set this time? Now the year is 2005.
Now I see a document before me entitled Strategic Marketing Plan: An Economic Development Marketing Plan for Dearborn County, Indiana.
(Click here if you would like to read along.)
The plan was offered through the recently dissolved Dearborn County Economic Development Initiative, “a private/public partnership created in 2004 to coordinate and expand the community’s economic development marketing efforts.”
What follows is a list of marketing strategies.
So, again, I must ask- was this another waste of time and money? If not, why not use these plans as a basis for this latest vision instead of seemingly starting over?
Plans need to be updated. Economic situations changes, even marketing strategies can shift with innovations in technology or social media. After 10 years, I can see why it is time to make updates.
Soon there will be a new convention center in Lawrenceburg. I am sure other changes have taken place that have shifted some of the focus or goals.
But is sounds like to me this latest countywide vision is starting from scratch. I can not “envision” updating a plan for over $600,000.
Money, money, money
And that sum of money, really is only the beginning. Recently, the Lawrenceburg city council approved several grants to redevelopment commissions, and for a new economic development position that is supposed to serve the interests of everyone in the county.
So much money has been spent on economic development in the name of jobs. But if we were to add all that money together, how much has been put to productive use? Not that there has not been any successes. Greendale redevelopment commission especially has scored some impressive victories over the last few years. My concern is the overall picture, especially regarding smaller, yet successful businesses in the community, that have been turned down for the grants and breaks which bigger businesses have received.
The public also needs to be more aware of what is taking place. That, of course, is a two-way street.
County residents need to stay more informed about the money being spent in the name of redevelopment. They need to speak up.
At the same time, redevelopment boards need to be upfront as possible about what is taking place.
Sure, some negotiations need to take place behind closed doors. But the negotiation excuse is used sometimes to create a veil of secrecy that is not warranted.
Too early to be open
I was especially disappointed during a recent county redevelopment commission meeting when a move was made to hold meetings at 8 a.m. Millions of dollars of public money are being filtered through these redevelopment commissions, yet the regular meeting time could be changed next month to a point in the day when many people are either working or dropping their children off at school. Even the media will have a difficult time attending to let the public know about the decisions being made. So if the public, nor any media, would be unable to easily attend, it would appear the door is not quite totally open, which would be a shame.
Because if economic development is so important, that it merits a $600,000 plan, I would think it is important to keep the door open as wide was possible.
I know most people have good intentions when creating these plans. They love their community, and want to see it thrive. They want their children to have a great place to work and live.
But maybe we should learn from the plans from the past, or we may be doomed to repeat their failures. Ten years later, we will be spending another $600,000-plus to start all over again, never waking up from our Groundhog Day.
Denise Freitag Burdette is assistant editor of The Journal- Press and The Dearborn County Register.