Survey: Economic Development a Big Deal for Finance Officers

Article excerpt

As finance officers become increasingly interested in economic development GFOA is working on recommended practices and other resources to help them assume a more visible role in the development process.

At the economic development sessions held at the annual conference in San Antonio this past June, GFOA members were asked to fill out a brief survey sponsored by the Committee on Economic Development and Capital Planning. The purpose of the survey was to educate the committee members about the GFOA membership and their concerns regarding economic development matters.

PROFILE OF RESPONDENTS

Seventy-four percent of the survey respondents work for an agency that has a formal economic development program. Most of these organizations either have a separate office of economic development or house this function within their planning and community development department. The office of the chief executive is another place where economic development sometimes resides in a public organization.

We wanted to know if finance officers are involved in economic development decision making in their agencies and, if so, whether this involvement is as an advisor or a decision maker. About two-thirds of the respondents indicated that they are involved in the economic development process in their organization. Of those who are involved, 70 percent are advisors to the process, while 30 percent are decision makers.

One of the most useful economic development tools is tax increment financing. About 70 percent of the respondents indicated that a tax increment program is available to help with development projects in their area. Tax increment financing was also at the top of the list of topics about which finance officers want additional information and knowledge.

WHAT YOU TOLD US

The answers to our survey told us a lot about the needs and interests of finance officers with respect to economic development. Below is a sampling of the things we learned, organized by survey question.

Why did you choose to attend this session?

Respondents had a number of different reasons for their interest in the economic development sessions at the San Antonio conference. The responses generally fell into four categories. By far the most common reason for their attendance was that they simply wanted to know more about economic development.

The second most popular response was that economic development was becoming more important to their job, their policymakers, or their organization, and they themselves were becoming more involved. Finance officers want to be proactive in the economic development process and learn how to ensure that the non-financial people involved in economic development receive good advice.

Some people were looking for specific information about the tools and strategies for economic development. A few of the tools mentioned included tax increment financing, different types of development districts, state grants, incentives, and other financing options. There also was a desire to learn how to evaluate the effectiveness of these tools and incentives.

The fourth area of interest was in learning about the impacts of economic development. Revenue growth, sales tax impacts, economic diversification, and the future economic viability of the jurisdiction were among the topics mentioned.

In your estimation, has your economic development program been successful?

In general, the respondents considered their agency's economic development program a success, with 52 percent answering positively. One-third did not consider their agency's program a success, while 15 percent either thought the jury was still out or simply did not know.

Finance officers identified a variety of reasons for the success of their agency's economic development program. The most frequently cited reason was that their community was growing and they could name specific examples of successful projects. …