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Local development groups make impact

A survey of local development organizations (LDOs) was conducted during the winter of 2010-11 by the University of Wisconsin Center for Community Development and the Wisconsin Economic Development Institute (WEDI), in partnership with the Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA).

The survey was designed to help describe and quantify the amount of economic development effort at the local level in the state.

The survey found that new jobs and an increased tax base are considered priorities for economic development success. Capital investment increases are an important third priority measure. The organizations surveyed are focused primarily on business development strategies, whether retention, expansion or recruitment, and most are partnering with local and state government.

The survey looked at budgets, funding sources, staffing, salaries and more, as it examined current economic development efforts in Wisconsin, It illustrates the significant collective efforts that are put into economic development at the local level across the state. Resources total well over $300 million dollars a year to operate local economic development organizations in Wisconsin.

The survey authors estimate that there are over 600 organizations in Wisconsin that have economic development as at least part of their mission. Most of these organizations are structured as nonprofit economic development organizations (53 percent), or are a separate function within a local government (32 percent). Of the total number of economic development groups in the state, 66 are countywide organizations; virtually all cities and villages over 10,000 in population have one; some towns do; and a growing number of neighborhood organizations have set up such a group, usually addressing a specific local problem area.

LDOs come in many forms and sizes. Consequently, trying to establish what constitutes a representative LDO budget is difficult. From the survey, only two categories, cities and counties, had sufficient responses to establish meaningful budget figures, Because of the widely varying population sizes, median (in the middle of the range) numbers were deemed to be most representative.

For cities, median operating budgets were $180,000 and were 100% publicly funded. For counties, median budgets were $132,700. Sixty six percent of the county median budgets came from public sources, 25% came from private sources, and 8% from other.

The 2011 budget for the Waupaca County Economic Development Corp. (WCEDC) is $87,307. Of that total, 84.4 percent if from public sources and 15.6 percent is earned revenues and retained earnings.

WEDA conducts an annual member survey that also provides additional information. One set of questions deals with the budgets. The WEDA Member Survey for 2010 cfound that median local economic development budgets for WEDA members were $150,000, representing a median population of 43,000, with a median per capita expenditure of $3.09.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue requires cities and counties to annually report on their economic development expenditures. This information is just becoming available for counties. City data is currently not separately tabulated. The mean per capita expenditure on economic development by counties in 2009 was $4.88.

Waupaca County’s per capita expenditure on economic development via the WCEDC is $1.00, and if you include the contributions from the six cities and one village, that amount is $1.42 per capita. These amounts have remained the same for the past 11 years.

The person heading up these efforts is typically employed full-time, with a salary in the $55-65,000 range, but salaries range from less than $25,000 to over $85,000. Most of the survey participants have fairly long tenures, having been in economic development for over 16 years, and in their current position an average of eight years. Paid staff size is slightly larger (2.9) than that determined in the 2002 survey, which had a 2.8 FTE average staff size.

The WCEDC has ne FTE, the executive director, whose salary is $64,904. He has 19 years of experience, with 11 of those years in his current position.)

In pursuing their economic development objectives, about half of these organizations are directed by a board of directors, which average 13 members in size. Board members are most often selected by a public process. Most of the time, the organization is responsible for determining its own policy decisions (67%). In trying to accomplish their missions, most of the local LDOs (roughly 80 percent) partner with units of government, either state or local governments, local chambers of commerce or educational institutions.

The WCEDC is directed by a 16-member board of directors. Nine of those members are selected via a public process, and the other seven members are at-large selections from business, education and workforce development. The WCEDC partners with local, state and federal units of government, local chambers of commerce, educational institutions, as well as other local, regional and state development organizations.

David Thiel is executive director of the Waupaca County Economic Development Corp.

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