Brookfield trustees last month signaled support for hiring someone on a permanent basis to tackle economic development initiatives. It’s not clear at this time whether such a person would be employed on a full-time or part-time basis, but the new staff position is a key recommendation in an economic development plan discussed at the village board’s March 28 committee of the whole meeting.
The draft economic development plan being considered by village officials was developed by Cindy Klima, an economic development consultant hired by the village last August while Village Manager Timothy Wiberg was in the midst of a search for a new director for the community development department.
While that department, which nominally was responsible for economic development in the past, now has a director, Wiberg told trustees that with the amount of work the director does with respect to building, zoning and planning issues it’s not realistic to expect that person to also handle economic development in a comprehensive way.
“I think it’s too much to expect, with all of the things a community development director has to oversee – that’s building, that’s planning and that’s economic development – the reality is there’s just not enough time in the day to really focus on those things,” Wiberg said.
In addition to the hands-on outreach and relationship building required to move the needle with property developers and business owners, Community Development Director Emily Egan said combining community development and economic development into one role also can create conflicts.
“Sometimes those roles are directly opposite,” said Egan, who is responsible for enforcing zoning and code requirements. “Sometimes you’re working with a business owner or property owner and you have to tell them ‘no,’ and that doesn’t always encourage a great relationship.
“Not to say that it’s impossible, and I love to figure out ways to say yes to our business community, but it is a tremendous asset to have someone who’s solely focused on the ‘yes,’” Egan said.
While Klima has provided an economic development focus, her main role has been to develop an economic development plan that the village will be able to implement. Wiberg said she likely would not want to serve Brookfield in a staff capacity.
Village President Michael Garvey and other elected officials said they were open to adding the position within the community development department.
“There are so many things that are on the community development director’s plate, when this economic development comes larger and faster, I only see Emily’s position getting bigger and busier,” Garvey said. “I think out of necessity that has to be a separate position.”
Trustee Jennifer Hendricks said that someone specifically focused on economic development would be necessary in order to act on whatever final economic development plan the village board adopts later this year.
“The idea of having one person on staff take ownership of this plan and guiding the implementation of it, I think, is critical to seeing it implemented,” Hendricks said.
She also suggested that the economic development specialist report back to the village board regularly to illustrate how the plan is being implemented and what the near-term future focus would be.
“I think that helps the board take ownership and helps keep this [plan] in front of the community, because it is that important,” Hendricks said.
The draft economic development plan also strongly recommends the formation of an economic development commission, whose members would be appointed by the village president and whose role and responsibilities would be laid out formally.
Such a commission would function as an advisory group working on initiatives important to the community and the village board.
“It can be a very dynamic process,” Wiberg said. “I’m not saying that without [a commission] economic development won’t happen in the village. But, I will say I don’t think it will happen as effectively or as productively as it could if you had a group of dedicated volunteers working in conjunction with village staff to brainstorm, to bring ideas forward.”