Two years after the idea was initially proposed, Ventura County supervisors took a major step Tuesday toward establishing a regional economic development corporation whose main purpose would be to market the county to outside businesses.
The Board of Supervisors approved a $30,000 contract with a consultant to help form the corporation, which could eventually include representatives from the county's 10 cities, the community college district, the Navy and others.
"It's a big step forward," Supervisor Maggie Kildee said of the board's action. "It's the first time we've had real dollars committed to putting flesh on this idea."
The corporation's primary mission would be to market the county as a good business location by promoting assets, such as the port, through major advertising campaigns, Kildee said.
"The fact that we have a port here means we can do overseas marketing," she said.
Officials said the corporation would also be able to provide loans to firms interested in moving to the county or industries looking to expand.
"This will be an action organization," Supervisor Frank Schillo said. "It will be judged on how it performs in bringing in new businesses and retaining businesses that are already here."
Although the corporation is supported by most local governments, some city officials said they would not favor joining the new organization because it would only duplicate their own city's economic development efforts.
"We already have an economic consultant," Camarillo Mayor Mike Morgan said. "And we've made excellent progress. As far as I'm concerned we're already doing a good job of promoting the city."
Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton said he supports the regional organization as long as east county cities are given equal representation in marketing campaigns.
"My only fear, and it's probably paranoia, is that whenever the county does something it tends to be directed toward Oxnard and Ventura," he said. "I just hope this is truly a countywide agency."
Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez, whose city has its own economic development corporation, said a regional organization would benefit every city, regardless of where a new business decided to locate.
"It benefits everyone because a lot of people live in one city and work in another," Lopez said. "A lot of Oxnard residents work in Camarillo and Newbury Park."
Supervisor Judy Mikels agreed. "Any time you bring jobs--good jobs--to an area it benefits everyone," she said.
Still, Mikels said the success of the economic development corporation will depend on who joins the organization.
"The biggest single issue we have to get over is whether everyone in the county will be willing to buy into a countywide corporation," she said.
The Tiburon-based consultant hired Wednesday to assist the county in forming the economic development corporation will help recruit cities, local chambers of commerce, water agencies, taxpayer groups and others to join. The consultant will also be responsible for drawing up a fee schedule for each participating organization.
If all goes as planned, Schillo said, the corporation could be up and running by summer.
"It's time to get this thing going," he said.