Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

June 20, 2013

Leelanau board disbands corporation

TRAVERSE CITY — The Leelanau County Board of Commissioners disbanded its economic development corporation.

Board Commission Chairman Tom Van Pelt said the EDC, consisting of community members and business leaders, was disbanded by a 6-to-1 vote this week for one simple reason: it wasn’t working.

“They had no goals, no organization and they were floundering around,” Van Pelt said.

Van Pelt said a three-member committee consisting of himself and commissioners Melinda Lautner and Carolyn Rentenbach will examine what’s a logical next step in attempting to bring new jobs to Leelanau County.

Van Pelt suspects the county will still back some form of an economic development effort, whether it’s through a permanent committee comprised of commissioners, or perhaps a committee consisting of business leaders, members of the public and someone from the board of commissioners.

“We are going to be looking at what our options are,” Van Pelt said. “It’s my intention to continue with it ... we will be talking to our local chambers.”

The decision follows several tumultuous weeks for the county board given public comments, captured on audio recordings, from Commissioners Debra Rushton, Karen Zemaitis and Lautner that to some indicated they weren’t interested in job growth in the county. The controversy was compounded by commissioners’ decision to reject a future partnership with the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corp., meaning the county was turning away from working with Traverse City area leaders on a regional job growth strategy.

That decision drew attention from business leaders in particular, given the fact that Leelanau County has an 8.8 percent unemployment rate. Approximately 40 percent of county residents also have to drive across county lines to find work.

Van Pelt said he’s still open to working with the Traverse Bay EDC.

“We felt we had to get our own house in order before we moved forward with anything,” Van Pelt said. “That was the biggest factor.”

Rentenbach was the single commissioner who voted to keep the EDC intact.

“I don’t see the point of disbanding something that could be useful in the future,” Rentenbach said. “It hasn’t been performing as it should have in past years, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be revived in an effective manner.”

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