County weighs value of chamber contract

Commission asks for signs of success in economic development

Economic development officials at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce say they're fielding various company inquiries about the chamber’s spec building, a 50,000-square-foot building located at 355 N. Shamrock Road.

Economic development officials at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce say they're fielding various company inquiries about the chamber’s spec building, a 50,000-square-foot building located at 355 N. Shamrock Road.

The Cole County Commission on Wednesday questioned the economic development successes of the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce for Cole County.

“We have to figure out the value of the chamber,” said Marc Ellinger, presiding Cole County commissioner. “It comes down to measures of success. If there’s no specific success stories to hang our hat on, why continue?”

The chamber received $185,000 from the city and $150,000 from the county for economic development services in the current budget year. Each contract must be renewed every year. But the city and county have contracted with the chamber for economic development services for more than a decade.

Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher said the city, county and chamber need to think outside the box to bring economic development to communities outside of Jefferson City.

“The Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce says ‘area,’” Ellinger said. “We have to include outside of the city.”

Missy Bonnot, director of economic development for the chamber, said zoning issues and a lack of infrastructure often keep businesses from locating outside city limits.

“We’ve had discussions about me going to Cole County communities to discuss with them what they need for business attraction,” Bonnot told the commission.

She said a lot of times it’s fire and police services that are lacking in the county.

“Interstate access is key, also,” she said. “If somebody would have a site ready to go, I would market it.”

Bonnot said chamber business was scarce the first quarter of 2014 — January through March.

“But in the last month, I’ve had several leads come to me directly,” she said. “I have seen an uptick in the last month.”

She said the interested projects have been small — 40,000-80,000 square feet, $5 million-50 million investments, bringing 60-100 jobs. All of them have been interested in the chamber’s spec building, a 50,000-square-foot building located at 355 N. Shamrock Road.

“I’m encouraged,” Bonnot told the commission. “But, I can’t say why companies don’t locate to Jefferson City other than the fact there’s a lot of competition out there.”

The commission will discuss the chamber’s contract in closed session with the chamber’s executive committee next Wednesday.

“Until we approve a contract with the chamber, we do not have a contract with the chamber,” Ellinger said. “The discussion would be on who else would bid on it.”

The Jefferson City Council also may consider alternative options for economic development services when the city’s contract with the chamber expires in October.

At a Council Committee on Administration meeting Wednesday, 3rd Ward Councilman Ken Hussey presented a proposed resolution stating the city will open a request for proposals process for economic development services for when the contract with the chamber expires Oct. 31. The committee voted to move the resolution forward to the full City Council for review.

Madeleine Leroux contributed information used in this story.

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