After the state ordered the city to separate out a new Economic Development Department out of the existing Community Development department city officials have begun researching to charter the new department.
Earlier in the month, Charles Thomas, the city’s business administrator, said he would research the effectiveness of creating a separate department devoted to bringing in economic development to the city.
“There are some questions the administration has as to,” said Thomas, “the research that’s necessary to create a department requires an analysis from other towns to determine whether their independent economic development department was successful.”
Creating a new department requires work, and it’s not clear whether the small number of staff in charge of economic development can simply be put into an independent department and be successful in producing results for the city.
“Right now for example, we have one person who is designated as an economic director and an economic development specialist, whether or not those two people in and of themselves are sufficient number of personnel to have an effective economic development department is not clear,” explained the business administrator.
Thomas said he has reached out to Rutgers’ School of Planning and Public Policy to seek guidance on creating the new state mandated department.
In its recent memorandum of understanding (MOU), the state department of community affairs said, “It is in the Municipality’s best interest to provide for a singular focus on economic development issues with a department head that is of comparable stature to other department heads within the Municipality.”
Within the new Economic Development Department should be Division of Economic Development, Division of Redevelopment, Historic Preservation and Division of Cultural, and Community Affairs, all of which are currently under the umbrella of Community Development Department, according to the memorandum.
Everything else would remain under a much leaner Community Development department.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said it would be more prudent if Community Improvement, division that issues permits, is attached to the new department and Division of Cultural and Community Affairs be left within the old department.
“I think economic development should be a separate department on its own,” said Morris earlier in the month. “The notion of keeping Community Improvement under Community Development I don’t agree with, Community Improvement which encompasses building permits and things of that nature should also be of the Economic Development division.”
By having Community Improvement under the new department it will streamline the permitting process and reduce wait time for businesses seeking to embark on development projects within city limits.
“I would hate to have the Economic Development division driving economic development and then all the sudden the permitting process and the approval process gets held up in Community Development,” Morris said.
The business administrator indicated that implementing the state’s suggestion may take a while despite the state’s wish to dismantle the old department to create the new “as soon as possible.”
“I will be asking DCA for sufficient time to implement,” said Thomas. “There is no time requirement that is set forth here.”
Under the shadow of Community Development, the economic division of the department was held back, said Morris. “In its current structure, economic development really didn’t have an opportunity to spread its wings and create deliverables that they were able to create in other municipalities,” remarked Morris.