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Building validity is long process for Milton Chamber

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Stacy Vogel
December 2, 2007
— Building business in a community can take a long time.

So can building the organization that’s supposed to achieve that.


So it’s not fair to judge the effectiveness of the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism after only a year in operation, supporters say.


“A lot of economic development comes from expanding effort in the beginning and seeing results later,” said Milton City Administrator Todd Schmidt. “A lot of seeds have been planted in the last year.”


Questions arose about MACCIT’s effectiveness and its request for city funds this month during the city budgeting process. Though the city council eventually agreed to give MACCIT the $16,000 it asked for, several council members questioned if a private economic organization should receive taxpayer support.


MACCIT officially combined the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, the Milton Economic Development Corp. and the city’s Tourism Development Committee on Jan. 1, 2007. The organization requested city funds—$20,000 in its first year, $16,000 in its second year and $13,000 in its third year—to help it get off the ground and fund the addition of a full-time staff member.


The city complied in 2007, but when planning the 2008 budget, Alderman Bruce Lippincott balked. He proposed cutting the requested funding in half to $8,000. (The motion eventually failed in a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Nate Bruce breaking the tie.)


“It’s supposed to be a private organization, and I just don’t think it’s good government policy that the government starts helping private organizations,” Lippincott said.


But MACCIT brings value to the city by attracting new business, supporting existing businesses and promoting tourism in the area, supporters said. That brings money into the community as tourists and residents spend their money there and new businesses increase the tax base.


“The level of effort MACCIT is able to put toward economic development is greater than what the city could do with a few smaller organizations,” Schmidt said.


The organization meets with potential new businesses, smoothing the way through the permit and approval process, said Lori Warren, MACCIT chairwoman.


“MACCIT can be the one that steers (potential businesses) and brings them in at the right time,” she said.


But Lippincott doubts that the organization has a real effect on attracting new business, he said.


“New people that come to town that are looking to purchase and move into our industrial park, they want to talk to basically the city administrator,” he said. “They don’t want to talk to someone that’s basically just representing the city.”


Schmidt argues it’s impossible to tell exactly how much a particular group or official influences a business’s decision to relocate. MACCIT helps the city by doing some of the routine, behind-the-scenes work in helping businesses relocate to Milton, he said.


For example, the organization played a role in Freedom Graphic Systems’ decision to build a new warehouse in the industrial park this year, he said.


Besides, it’s way too early to tell what kind of effect MACCIT is having on the business community, Executive Director Christina Slaback said.


“A lot of businesses, when they’re coming into town, it takes a while and you have to build that relationship,” she said.


That’s especially true considering the organization changed staff members in the middle of its first year. Slaback took over in October after the first director, Sue Schumacher, resigned.


“There’s a ramp-up period,” Slaback said. “I’m still learning.”


Small business owners divided in opinion of MACCIT


Maureen Boyle, owner of Books & Brew, had her doubts about the creation of the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Tourism.


She worried the organization would lack the focus on small businesses that the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce had. And she didn’t know if MACCIT could meet its $100,000 budget, far larger than the chamber’s previous budget of $30,000 a year.


A year later, her fear about small businesses losing out hasn’t come true, she said, but she still thinks she was right to oppose the reorganization.


“I really think it was all much ado about nothing, because it’s the same people doing the same things, and they would be (doing them) whether MACCIT existed or not,” she said.


Meanwhile, Boyle doubts the organization can raise enough money to become self-sufficient.


“I think it’s unfortunate we have to focus so much time on trying to raise enough money to fill our budget,” she said.


Terry Williamson also worried about MACCIT’s budget when the organization formed.


“My biggest concern was the funding,” said Williamson, owner of Goodrich Hall Antiques and longtime chairwoman of the city’s (and now MACCIT’s) tourism committee. “How were we going to be able to pay this full-time director?”


But Williamson now thinks the organization will find its way.


The seed money from the city will help for a few years, and the executive director will help MACCIT find more income, she said.


“The two things we need to keep pushing are our events and membership; we need to keep growing that,” she said.


Events and other tourism aspects in Milton will only get better as MACCIT grows and develops, Williamson said.


Funding


The Milton Area Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Tourism formed to streamline economic development efforts and avoid duplication, but its 2007 budget more than doubled the combined budgets of the three organizations from which it formed:


The Milton Chamber of Commerce typically spent about $30,000.


The Milton Industrial Economic Development Corp. spent $9,000 to $10,500 a year.


The city typically budgeted about $5,000 a year for its Tourism Development Committee.


MACCIT’s 2007 budget was $100,000. The major expense was the addition of a full-time executive director, something the chamber of commerce was already considering because of increased programming needs, Executive Director Christina Slaback said.


In the past, the chamber of commerce had a part-time staff member, and the other organizations ran on volunteers.


The director helps MACCIT communicate with members, organize committees, promote events and increase participation, said Chairwoman Lori Warren.


To get the organization off the ground, MACCIT asked for three years of “seed money” from the city: $20,000 in 2007, $16,000 in 2008 and $13,000 in 2009.


MACCIT also receives reimbursement from the city for its marketing efforts in tax incremental financing districts. The city budgeted $18,000 to reimburse the organization in 2007, but MACCIT must provide receipts from its expenditures.


The organization hopes to become self-sufficient after three years by increasing membership and attendance at its annual fund-raisers.



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