EDC defends mission in Freeland

"Tom Shaughnessy is tired of talking about the Freeland Exxon project. That is what the Island County Economic Development Commission director told the Langley City Council Wednesday night. Shaughnessy spent 45 minutes defending the EDC's mission, fielding questions about how the publicly funded, non-profit agency responds to public sentiment, why it creates competition in what some see as saturated markets, and whether it is actually bringing more jobs to Island County. Riding on his answers was the city's decision whether to continue paying $300 in annual dues But before Shaughnessy could field questions about the EDC's mission and place in the county's business community, he had to explain why the organization made inquiries into permitting decisions made this spring in regard to a planned gas station, car wash, and automobile service complex local developers are trying to build in Freeland. Invited by council member Neil Colburn to clear some bad air surrounding the EDC's involvement with the project, Shaughnessy said the EDC simply made an inquiry into a permit filed by the A-OK development group. He said the EDC put about three hours of work into the inquiry to make certain that the permit was being handled fairly. The developers are members of the EDC, Shaughnessy said, and received the sort of assistance any other member would. Shaughnessy said the public furor raised over the EDC's perceived involvement with the project was generated at the organization's annual meeting and by a newspaper article about the meeting.EDC didn't say 'Go for it Exxon,' Shaughnessy said. What you're referring to is what is reported in the paper and how it is reported.When it came to rating the EDC's performance, Shaughnessy told the council that it is difficult to produce out hard numbers. He did say that business is good in Island County this year. Island County, Island Transit, and county law enforcement will take in $1.1 million more in sales tax revenues this year than they budgeted for - and indication that sales of goods and services are high county wide. In the EDC's Coupeville office, Shaughnessy and his administrative assistant have fielded 522 requests for information this year.The figures notwithstanding, Colburn leveled further criticism at the EDC, telling Shaughnessy that the organization needs to put more effort into supporting existing businesses. Citing Oak Harbor's fast-emptying downtown as an example, Colburn said he wonders if small businesses like his are on the EDC's radar screen.It makes me queazy, Colburn said.Responding to Colburn's fears, Shaughnessy said business retention is the main focus of the EDC now that it is under his direction.That is indeed the focus, he said.Colburn also wondered aloud whether the EDC should give more weight to public sentiment, such as that concerning the Exxon project, because the EDC does receive public funding. Shaughnessy said the organization needs to consider its members first.The EDC doesn't really get into that, he said of public opinion.After the discussion, council members made no move to stop funding the EDC. "

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