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Janesville City Council debating future of economic development position

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Marcia Nelesen
May 10, 2013

— Economic development is a priority, Janesville City Council members agree, but they don’t agree what to do about the vacant economic development director position.

Jay Winzenz, interim city manager, had recommended the city replace the vacant director position with two coordinators. That would nearly double the number of hours available for economic development at about the same cost, he said.

In a more recent memo, Winzenz suggested another alternative: filling the long-vacant community development director position and having that director coordinate economic development activities as well as oversee planning and building and development services.

That option would be more costly and result in less time spent on economic development, Winzenz wrote in the memo.

Winzenz said he is coming to the council for a decision rather than waiting until a new city manager is chosen because hiring two coordinators would set an economic strategy.

At an earlier meeting, a majority of council members said they wanted more information from community members and perhaps a broader discussion about an economic development vision. They voted to delay any decision until at least Monday.

A minority of council members—President Kathy Voskuil, Douglas Marklein and Sam Liebert—disagreed, saying the council needs to get staff on board because economic development momentum in Janesville is building.

The council has made economic development its priority.

DuWayne Severson led the effort to delay the decision, and Wednesday said he would continue to push for a delay until more community input is received.

Severson said it might be beneficial to wait until a new city manager is hired. Former City Manager Eric Levitt left for a new job Tuesday.

“We’re talking something long-term instead of rushing something into place (to) get the folks who are going to have some impact in years to come,” Severson said.

“We haven’t talked among ourselves where we want development to go.”

Councilman Jim Farrell agreed, suggesting the city could get good input from the board of Janesville’s business incubator, for example.

Liebert agreed but said it’s important the city isn’t “farming out our entire strategy to the chamber of commerce.

“I think we also need to maintain our independence from these organizations and work with them and not work for them,” Liebert said.

At the last meeting, Levitt was concerned a lengthy delay could hurt the city’s economic development.

“To delay it five, six months, our concern was, you might lose some momentum on economic development,” he said.

Voskuil agreed and encouraged council members to seek out the information they are looking for from community members.

“We have a vacancy in our economic development department right now, and we have people, businesses that want to expand right now, and we have businesses that want to move into the city of Janesville right now,” she said.

“We need to have an economic development group that can all work together between now and when we hire a city manager.”

Severson asked staff how it has been operating the last weeks with the director position vacant.

Winzenz said he is taking the lead on certain projects and Al Hulick, another staff member, the lead on others.

“That means that other things are not getting done,” Winzenz said.

He said resources would be even more stretched once Levitt is gone.



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