Stemming from Governor Tom Corbett's budget proposal for the fiscal year 2011-2012, significant changes to the state's community and economic development delivery system have trickled down to North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission [NCPRPDC].
"There is still a lot of maturation that has to happen with our delivery process, but the difficulty is implementing everything that we have," said Eric Bridges, NCPRPDC executive director. "We were fortunate because we didn't have the growing pains or the relationship issues-- we know what we need to do, we know what the administration wants, and we've committed to those ideas and created a focused document. I have all the confidence in the world that we'll be able to succeed.
"The ultimate evaluator of all the changes will be the customers and the clients; they'll be the ones who can tell us if these changes and modifications are being effective or not. Within our proposal, we have built-in mechanisms which allow us to verify some of that insight."
Gone from Corbett's budget are earmarked resources for many of the major economic development service providers, including the local development districts such as North Central, small business development centers, the industrial resource centers, and the industrial development assistance program.
Replacing these line items is a new initiative called Partnership for Regional Economic Performance [PREP]. The intent of PREP is to encourage a more coordinated and efficient approach to the delivery of economic development services by providing competition-based grants to economic development service providers within designated regions.
"I think this will make things easier for everybody," Bridges said. "This will make it easy for us as a consortium, it'll make it easier for the business community to understand what we can bring to the table collectively and we have high hopes and I'm very optimistic that this will ultimately work."
After months of planning, one of the challenges that arose involves the handling of a project encompassing more than one region while passing over geographic boundaries.
"One of the challenges was that we needed to figure out the relationships in relation to geography," Bridges said. "My sense is that through the network of all the respective partners, most of the partners are either involved in or have their own regional or state association, or belong to the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association-- and there will be an over-reliance on those institutions to help facilitate some of those dialogues and communications.
"Within our region, we have very specific and precise protocols on how we handle things and share contacts, manage our clients, everything. For the state, a large part of what they'll be looking for as we implement everything, they'll be looking to see what particular region has a handle on what. As their understanding of the system grows and matures, I think we'll be in a position to get some feedback."
After the initial budget plan was released, officials from North Central and other directly-affected partners, including the Northwest Industrial Resource Center, the Clarion Small Business Development Center, and various county economic development corporations, convened on multiple occasions to develop a framework for what the delivery system would look like.
However, William H. Bogart, small business consultant for NCPRPDC, showed there is more than one side to the story.
"Excuse my lack of appreciation, but as a private businessman and looking at this concept because I read the draft, I don't think free-market businesses should be conditioned to becoming a client of government," Bogart said. "My experiences in the private sector, frankly, is the private enterprise doesn't need government. There is too much of it now. All we're going to do is create more costs and it's the small business development center-- my legislators are using my tax dollars as a private businessman for funding to compete against me. I think I should be given a choice to not pay taxes to this commonwealth because I think it's inherently unfair, I truly do."
Pick up a copy of the Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.