Economic Development: One City's Response to Difficult Economic Times

By Cawley, Paul | Government Finance Review, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Economic Development: One City's Response to Difficult Economic Times


Cawley, Paul, Government Finance Review


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Over the past six months, the world of economic development has been turned upside down. Vacancy rates are on the rise, property values are declining, and people are losing jobs. This new economic reality can't be changed, so the only thing to do is learn from it and move forward with a fresh new look at economic development. The City of Coral Springs, Florida, has responded by working on developing new strategies and initiatives for the future that will ensure the city's readiness for economic recovery. This is an ongoing process, but the city has made significant progress and will be on the cutting edge of change, not only in its region but in the nation.

HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED

To understand the city's response to economic difficulties, we first need to look at how the world of economic development has changed. Ten years ago or so, economic development was very much driven by company executives and developers. A company, often with assistance from a site selector, determined the criteria that best suited its needs, and then within those parameters, the company selected the city that offered the most benefits as the site for its relocation or expansion. In terms of developers, land was plentiful, prices were attractive, and buildings were built. The role of the economic developer was to provide assistance with city processes such as planning and zoning, with the building department, and also marketing assistance to attract tenants to the projects. Not much attention was paid to the particular companies and the uses. As long as the use was permitted, the buildings were filled.

Economic development then became a matter of retention. It was important to get new companies involved with the community and with the city's Economic Development Foundation (EDF), the Chamber of Commerce, and city boards so their interests would be channeled in the right direction for the betterment of the community, Throughout this process, the fundamental reason for economic development was--and still is--a city's ability to increase the commercial and industrial tax base, so the burden of paying for increased city services is not passed on to the citizens. This kind of balance is crucial to the success of any city's economic development program.

Coral Springs founded its Economic Development Foundation in 1994. At that time, the city's commercial and industrial tax base was $475 million, and it established a goal of doubling that base by "build out" in 10 years. Coral Springs now has a population of 126,900, a tax base of $1.8 billion, and little land remaining to be developed. The overall commercial and industrial tax base accounts for 21 percent of all assessed value in the city, which is a great balance. In addition to taxes, the direct economic impact to the city and surrounding area on all development in Coral Springs has been $674,999,627. In total, the city has added more than 7.3 million square feet of new development, worked with more than 120 projects and companies, and created more than 14,000 new jobs.

A PROACTIVE APPROACH

But will this success automatically continue, once the economic crisis begins its recovery? The answer is clearly no. The old economic development model needs to be replaced with a proactive approach to attracting and retaining business and industry. Coral Springs has already begun this process by taking a close look at the national, statewide, and local trends, and using this information to target the new business and industry it wants to attract to the city

A close look at national and statewide job projections shows that health care, medical devices, medical information technology, and global information technology are all growing competitive industries for our country and state. In addition, Florida has always had a lot of distribution business, with products moving throughout the state, some of them to international destinations. …

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