Agency produces mumbo jumbo instead of jobs


That's the Metro-Orlando Economic Development Commission pounding my thick skull with a hammer, harder and harder.


Each time

Lake County

commissioners express some displeasure with the EDC's lack of results in bringing new business to the community, the nonprofit agency that pays its director more than $326,800, comes back with yet another presentation.

Unfortunately, it's the same presentation, only they've switched from a claw hammer to a sledge to pound home the point. Next time, they'll probably tow a pile driver into the round courthouse. I'll be skipping that meeting.

Lake commissioners met last week with the EDC to talk about what the agency is doing with the nearly $300,000 the county gives it and what should be defined as "success."

Result? The EDC hijacked the meeting for its own purposes and began thanking itself, its volunteers, county staff and county commissioners.


Then, officials spent at least an hour showing slides detailing their work and their goals for the coming year, using examples like pictures of broken stools to drive home their points.

The last time I saw a presentation like this one was the fourth grade. Why did commissioners sit through such an insulting dog-and-pony show?

Voilà. Here is a picture of a three-legged stool representing the economy of Lake County before the building boom — agriculture, tourism and construction.

Next is a picture of a stool with broken


, representing our current economy. (Really? There's a


? No way! Who knew?)

Then came a picture of a sturdy stool with four legs, representing the goals — diversified catalysts, (whatever those are), global experience, (does that refer to the agency's 2009 junket to the United Arab Emirates?) health and wellness, agribusiness and related research and clean technology.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

Then there was a cartoon of a bucket with dollar signs dropping into it. But the most bizarre portion of the presentation was the slide showing one of the EDC's methods of promoting Lake County — using a Lake version of the game Jeopardy!

Yes, Jeopardy! In an economy that is shaky, depressed and unstable. You must believe me because this sort of thing could come only from the EDC. Under "prosperity" for $100, the answer is, "This


county might want to bother with your company. Or might not."

The EDC presentation proudly listed its "accomplishments": participation from about 90 community leaders, about 49 meetings being held and 19 presentations give to civic organizations. The agency believes that creating community partnerships is a critical leg to any economic stool.

After seeing that these folks think meetings are "accomplishments" rather than means to an end, Commissioner Elaine Renick wrested her board's meeting back to the more relevant topic of writing performance requirements.

Things got touchy.

Renick asked EDC director Ray Gilley whether some counties have performance-based objectives.

"Some deliverables, but not objectives," he said.

A winner!

Renick's colleagues were hesitant to even talk about requiring at least a measly return for what they're now calling a "grant" to the EDC.

"I look at this as an investment, and the best return is in the future," Commissioner Linda Stewart said.

That logic might make sense if the agency had a record of success in the past for Lake. It doesn't. A check of its claims of bringing new


and helping local companies expand shows that the "successes" didn't happen. Of course, that's likely because the stool is still broken.

Commission Chairman Welton Cadwell finally instructed Interim County Manager Sandy Minkoff to negotiate "deliverables" with the EDC and bring them back to the board for approval. Nobody objected.

"Since we've answered the question about whether we're still in love and want to be married, next question," Cadwell joked.

Goals for the EDC shouldn't be unattainable. The nation is in a recession and to demand that the agency bring a Lockheed Martin to Lake County would be absurd.

But certainly the county ought to strip away even the most vague of requirements that leave the EDC thinking its job is to "facilitate" meetings. Lake is full of too many meetings. What it's not full of is jobs.

The performance requirements ought to be limited strictly to activities that


produce jobs. Even if the EDC can't bring in a single new position, at least taxpayers would feel that there had been a focused, concentrated effort to accomplish the only thing that truly matters.

And there is a reasonable expectation that such efforts would build goodwill in the market and could produce results in the future. There's very little expectation of new jobs connected with telling the local quilting club what a marvelous job the EDC is doing.

At the moment, neither taxpayers nor commissioners know what the EDC is capable of. The agency never has been required to produce results that go beyond bureaucratic busy-work. Commissioners must lay out clearly and succinctly what they want. Then, it's up to the agency to get out there and do it.

Lauren Ritchie can be reached at

You may leave her a message at 352-742-5918. Her blog is online at