Why have a private community and economic development corporation?



The Greater Crisfield Action Coalition was formed in May 2015 based on the findings of the Lofton Report completed fourteen years earlier. The findings of the report were valid then and remain valid today based on the state of the economy in Crisfield. The findings then showed that "Crisfield is a community suffering severe long-term economic distress." It states further that "By virtually any criteria, population growth (decline), employment/unemployment trends, per capita/per household incomes, and percentage of population living in poverty, Crisfield substantially lags behind regional, statewide, and national averages.  Very little new job creation has occurred as traditional seafood, food processing, and related activities have continued to decline."

As a result of the existing economic conditions, in 2002, Mike Lofton, a highly respected and experienced economic development consultant, was hired "to examine economic development procedures in Crisfield and propose improvements." The Lofton Report states that from the beginning, it was clear Crisfield did not need another study or more ideas for projects. What Crisfield needed then (and now) was "capacity to implement projects that offer real potential for improving the economy." What emerged from the $30,000 examination was "the framework for a new organization that has the potential to provide Crisfield with a high-performance economic development team that will mount a sustained program to invigorate the local economy." Note the need for a "new organization" to "mount a sustained effort" to invigorate the local economy. The bottom line purpose was "to ensure the economic future of Crisfield" through people, a process, and projects.

Why create a new organization? Because, the report found that the City government does not have the "capacity" to mount a sustained effort to invigorate the economy. The findings of the Lofton Report were that "Crisfield has essentially no capacity to examine new (or old) opportunities, select those that demonstrate feasibility and successfully implement those chosen. The town's government is focused on the delivery of essential services and does not have specific resources or personnel devoted to pursuing economic development activity. When an opportunity presents itself, leadership is created on an ad hoc basis, if at all. Such an approach has been unsustainable over the time periods typically required for significant economic development projects and never generates proactive efforts to initiate economic growth." In short, the City does not have the personnel or specific resources or time required to follow-up or pursue opportunities that would impact the economy.

So what solution did the report recommend? Specifically, the report proposed "a highly focused, professionally staffed, private not-for-profit corporation," a 501(c)(3) community economic development corporation. The corporation would be "led by a highly qualified all volunteer Board of Directors committed to the corporate mission." The Board would "maximize the economic potential of this community by serving as a conduit for successful redevelopment, revitalization and new development, while supporting and maintaining Crisfield's strong sense of community."

The Lofton Report recommended that the corporation would function as the "implementation arm" of the Mayor and Council for economic development activities and would be empowered "to act in an aggressive manner consistent with the policy goals of the Mayor and Council."

There are four key concepts or phrases that need to be highlighted and understood from the above summary:

1). "Implementation versus ideas." Crisfield doesn't need more ideas. Crisfield needs a means of "implementing" the best ideas/opportunities. Have you ever had someone tell you all the things you "should do" and then walk away... What happens to those ideas? Ideas are just words unless you have people with the passion, skills and time to carry them out over the period of time required to successfully complete them. All good ideas eventually must lead to real work, if they are to become reality.  Projects take a sustained effort. Think about the building of a house, starting a company, planting a garden, or creating a piece of art. Each project takes thought, planning, skills, passion, time, discipline, and hard work.

2). "Highly focused, professionally staffed non-profit." Implementation requires people. Capacity means having a professional staff who are going to focus and aggressively pursue economic development activities that will impact the Crisfield economy. In other words, the corporation will hire and work with a professional staff focused on seeing the best ideas through to completion/implementation and impact. An experienced, professional staff requires significant and sustained funding.

3). "Highly qualified, all volunteer Board of Directors." Like GCAC? Yes. GCAC has a highly qualified, all volunteer Board with representatives from the whole community with various skills and talents that combine to work together to create and carry out the mission. Once funding is secured, this Board will work with the staff, including the CEO and administrative assistant, the same two staff positions the Lofton Report recommended in 2002.

4). "Empowered to act." Empowered by whom? Empowered by the Mayor and Council to act "aggressively" on behalf of the City and in line with the City's "policy goals." The report further stressed the need to "act quickly and clearly to endorse the formation" of the corporation. The corporation's stated immediate goal in the Lofton Report was to bring the corporation's corporate charter to City Council for unanimous passing of a Resolution to support the operation of this economic development corporation."

After the City and others paid for and received the Lofton report, an ad hoc group was established to explore the creation of an economic development corporation for Crisfield, like those that operate in Ocean City, Annapolis, Easton and in thousands of communities across the country.  After meeting for over two years, this group was disbanded by the leadership.  Then, in February 2013 and again in April 2015, the City Council was asked to form the recommended private corporation.  In both cases, council declined to act. So in May 2015, two City Council members and a small group of citizens set out on their own to form the Greater Crisfield Action Coalition, Inc.  On August 24th, City Council declined to support the mission of this group, created to fulfill the intent of the Lofton Report.

The conclusion of the report was that "Crisfield was not organized to seize economic opportunity." It predicted what would happen, and what has happened, since the report was completed if the proposed community development corporation was never formally formed or put into action.  It said: "Finally, in the absence of a new energetic approach to economic development that includes an organization with the skills, knowledge, resources, and passion to see good ideas to a successful conclusion, there is little reason to expect Crisfield will reverse its economic decline."

— Submitted by Charlotte Scott, president of the GCAC.

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