The Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce will not handle economic development efforts for Cole County next year.
By a 2-1 vote, the Cole County Commission on Tuesday approved Victory Enterprises/Strategic Capitol Consulting to provide economic development services for Cole County instead of the Chamber of Commerce, which has contracted with the county for economic development services for more than 20 years.
Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher and Western District Commissioner Kris Scheperle voted to hire Victory/Strategic, with Presiding Commissioner Sam Bushman voting against.
"The chamber is disappointed in that decision and believes it is more efficient and effective to work together as a team for community growth," Chamber of Commerce President Randy Allen said in a news release issued after Tuesday's meeting.
Commissioners put out requests for proposals for economic development services in June seeking a firm "capable of providing consulting for the commission in the attraction and retention of businesses and the promotion of the county before the Missouri General Assembly and other state of Missouri governmental bodies," according to the request for proposal.
Some specific items the commission wanted included developing a community relations plan for the county to work with Jefferson City, the chamber and "key influencer group officials to execute county priorities."
The work Victory/Strategic will do for the county includes writing and submitting grants for state and federal opportunities as they arise and participating in industrial relations, business development activities, and community support and development.
Part of the agreement calls for Victory/Strategic to serve as the registered lobbyist for the county on state matters, a duty previously not included in the county's contract with the Chamber of Commerce.
"A lot of it came down to the lobbying part of the plan, although it was not intended to be that way," Hoelscher said.
Hoelscher said he believes everyone — the county, Victory/Strategic and the Chamber of Commerce — should be involved in working to help the county grow.
"When I came up here 10 years ago, we were in survival mode," he said. "Right now I think we're stable, but I think we should be having a lot more successes. I think we should try something different, which can maybe give us more resources and lead to more relationships."
"I think we need to be more diverse," Hoelscher added. "The chamber and many other groups like them work on economic development matters in what I would call a traditional way. With Victory/Strategic, I believe they'll be able to bring more people to the table and get before more groups that can help us. Maybe we try this for a year and see what happens."
Bushman, who opposed the change, noted the chamber's work with the Cole and Callaway county commissions and Jefferson City Council to assemble a proposal for a Missouri River port facility in Mid-Missouri. The Missouri Department of Transportation approved the application to form the Heartland Port Authority earlier this month.
"I think we have a lot of things going on with the chamber right now, and I still want to be a part of that," Bushman said."I know I want us to be involved with the port project, and I don't know what will happen if we don't have a relationship with the chamber."
The County Commission's vote was a surprise to Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin.
The Jefferson City Council on Monday approved a $185,000 contract, effective Nov. 1, 2018, through Oct. 31, 2019, for the Chamber of Commerce to continue handling economic development for the city. The agreement carries up to three additional one-year renewal periods at the city's discretion.
"It's unfortunate we can't keep this going," Tergin said. "I was not informed that the commission would be going in this direction. I attended the presentations by both groups in August to the commission, and I felt the chamber was clearly stronger and had a proven plan for growth. Victory/Strategic did not have as strong an economic development plan, in my opinion.
"In the last two years, the chamber has been involved in working to bring a port authority to our community, prison redevelopment and getting economic incentives that have helped bring in companies. They've worked with the city and the county to do this."
Victory/Strategic stated they would work to develop and locate a port in the Algoa area and support research to extend JeffTran bus service to current and potential employers in the Algoa area.
"Victory Enterprises and Strategic Capitol Consulting will bring local experience and national reach to our region's economic development efforts," Scheperle said in a news release Tuesday afternoon. "We look forward to working collaboratively with their teams and all stakeholders, including the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce, to create jobs and opportunities through potential projects like the port and many others."
Allen said the Chamber of Commerce will continue to provide joint economic development support to Jefferson City and Cole County until the end of this calendar year.
"Chamber leadership will be working with the city in planning changes under the single representation model beginning Jan. 1," he said."We are disappointed in the decision by the county to separate efforts from those of the city and business community."
Victory Enterprises is a political and corporate consulting communications firm based in Davenport, Iowa, with many politicians among its clients as well as corporations. Strategic Capitol Consulting represents large companies, professional associations and municipally owned utilities.
In their proposal, Victory/Strategic officials said they would analyze the county's existing policies, infrastructure and amenities, and how they relate to business attraction and retention, then develop and execute an "exhaustive public relations, messaging and media delivery plan to better tell Cole County's story on why businesses should locate here."
Victory/Strategic officials had proposed a fee of $10,000 a month — $120,000 a year for the annual contract. Scheperle believes they will start that contract at the beginning of 2019.
The County Commission in April approved a contract with the Chamber of Commerce through the end of 2018 for $150,000.
The chamber's new proposal would have kept its current economic development fee at $150,000, adding $18,000 for lobbying efforts, which would have brought the total cost to $168,000. Jefferson City firm RJ Scherr & Associates would have handled the lobbying efforts.
During the chamber's annual report to Jefferson City and Cole County governments, chamber officials said the organization has helped to attract more than 2,000 jobs to the area over the last 11 years, resulting in over $97 million in new wages and $272 million in new real and personal property investment.