Citing budgetary concerns and a new list of goals set by its board of directors, the Gonzales Economic Development Corporation had to turn down funding for two projects last week during a regularly-scheduled meeting.
One of the proposals that was considered was hospitality training for local businesses, requested by the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture. The other was an economic impact analysis of the JB Wells Arena Expo Center and events taking place at those facilities.
The community-wide certified hospitality training was the brainchild of the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture. The chamber requested funding from GEDC – not to exceed $5,000 – for hospitality training according to Chamber Director Daisy Scheske-Freeman.
According to GEDC President and CEO Genora Young, GEDC’s portion of the contract would be paying $4,991 in workshop fees for Alysia A. Cook, PCED, IOM with Opportunity Strategies LLC, of Austin. The chamber would be contracted to pay for travel expenses, lodging and meals for the instructor, as well as finding the training facility for the two-day workshop.
According to Scheske-Freeman, the two-day workshop would allow more businesses to participate because business owners could send half their employees one day and half the next.
“I would like to see as many businesses participate as possible, because when they go through this training they will be certified by Texas A&M University with Alysia; so, not only will that employee learn something from this training but they will also have a certificate to boost their morale and also help our businesses,” Scheske-Freeman said.
GEDC’s newest board member James Hamilton asked, “How do you measure success?”
Scheske-Freeman said it is her hope that following training business owners and customers would be able to see improvements in customer service.
Hamilton asked if a numerical measurement of chamber members are interested in attending.
“The expenditure doesn’t seem like that much, honestly, but where’s the bang for the buck,” Hamilton asked. “This can’t just be a one-hit wonder,” she said.
Board member Dan Blakemore said he worries that the money would be spent and the EDC would be left holding a binding contract and end up seeing very little business participation.
Board member Steve Sucher was concerned that there was only $22,000 budgeted for Marketing and Promotions.
Young confirmed there was “very little wiggle room” and that a budget amendment could be made.
Board member Gerri Lawing, a seasoned economic development professional who currently works as economic development coordinator for GVEC and also works with the Gonzales Area Development Corporation said the prospective workshop did not fall under marketing or promotions.
“I love stuff like this. I am all over it. Alysia is first-class, she does an absolutely excellent job, she’s the best there is,” Lawing said. “A lot of times these things are paid for out of tourism, because that’s what it is: marketing your community to those people who come in. It doesn’t fit well with an economic development project. That’s my opinion.”
Lawing said the board has many other needs to address that are true economic developments. But she would not want to see EDC funds spend in perpetuity to put on the workshop.
Lawing said if the EDC were to move forward with the project, it would fit better as a Workforce Development Project.
“Almost every dime we have is spent, in some way shape or form,” Board President Dewey Smith said.
Sucher said month after month the EDC has public entities coming to the board with requests and the board is tasked spending time discussing requests for money the corporation does not have.
“To me it seems there is sort of an uncontrolled chaos here about the EDC funds and how they’re budgeted, how they’re allotted strategically, Sucher said. “We are place in a position going month-to-month taking these requests. I am advocating for a more controlled budget process.”
Blakemore made a motion to approve the request as presented; however, lacking a second, the motion failed.
The board also denied a request for funding of an impact study for JB Wells Arena and the Expo Center. The study would have given the EDC a thee-year to five-year study of the impact of the facilities and the events held at the facilities, but the board’s budgetary concerns were ultimately shown by way of a vote.
Sucher made a motion to go with funding 50 percent of the project, with the lowest bidder, leaving the other 50 percent to be paid by the city. Smith seconded the motion and opened to floor for more discussion.
The motion failed two to four with Hamilton, Smith, Lawing and Vice-President James Ryan voting nay.