Lee’s Summit debates economic growth goals

City Council members have tossed more fuel on a smoldering debate over whether Lee’s Summit is getting a good return on the $250,000 it spends each year to support the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council.

The development council — which also gets funding from local businesses and the Lee’s Summit School District — is directed by an executive board that includes the mayor, city manager and school superintendent. In 2011-12 its revenues were $565,805. Its president, Jim Devine, has led the organization since 1999.

A City Council committee began work July 17 on a council directive to define performance measures for the development council, to be included as part of an agreement to get future funding.

Chairman Dave Mosby said the committee could look at measures in two ways, setting goals for activity or results. An example of activity would be scheduling tours for developers. An example of results, he said, would be a company locating in Lee’s Summit or creating new jobs.

Councilman Derek Holland asked if such tours would be valuable, and worthy of being considered as a measure.

Yes, said Mike VanBuskirk of Zimmer Realty Services, who was at the meeting on behalf of the development council. He said many brokers or developers hadn’t visited Lee’s Summit and would be surprised at opportunities they would see.

Much of the conversation was about the need for measures and areas of responsibility.

Council member Bob Johnson has been pushing for such standards. Johnson, who is not on the committee, testified that the city is facing flat sales and franchise tax revenue. He noted that a lawsuit gobbled up much of the city’s once-plentiful cash balance.

With tighter budgets, he said, the city has to demand more. He wants commercial projects to bring higher-paying jobs.

“I’m tired of it, I want results,” Johnson said. “Where are the job creations?”

Holland said measuring performance is tough but necessary.

“We need the LSEDC and Jim Devine ... to wake up every day thinking ‘How can we create new jobs and a better business climate in Lee’s Summit?’,” Holland said.

He said he wants the development council to be more aggressive in recruiting outside companies.

Council member Allan Gray said the development council needs to be given adequate time to meet any new measures. Economic development works on a schedule of many years, not just one, he said, and requirements need to be realistic.

Gray said also the council must change its culture or the EDC will be set up for failure.

“Successful communities have incentives in their quiver,” Gray said. “As a council we’re going to have to be prepared to get into the game.”

EDC officials agreed the city has its responsibilities, too.

Developers are reluctant to spend large amounts of money and time to “roll the dice” with the City Council, VanBuskirk said.

He said the city needs a written policy that says “...if you meet these requirements, here are the incentives you can expect.”

“That’s the biggest challenge right now,” VanBuskirk said.