Investing in job creation: worth the risk?
Despite all the fanfare and fallout over Ventura City Council’s decision to ban mobile medical marijuana dispensaries Monday night, a less controversial, yet still important, item was passed, the dissolution of the job investment fund.
In August 2007, the City Council allocated $5 million for the Ventura economic development/job investment fund. In December 2007, the city contracted with DFJ Frontier of Santa Barbara to manage a $3 million job investment fund, and the city also created the Ventura job co-investment account, worth $1.6 million. The remaining $400,000 was invested in the Ventura Ventures Technology Center (V2TC). Over the last few years, with the exception of V2TC, Ventura has seen little job growth in association with the investment fund. Further, of the three companies that benefited from the job investment fund, two of them collapsed and relocated outside the county and it remains to be seen what the third company will bring in the realm of job creation. The good news: V2TC has served as a springboard for 49 companies and resulted in 109 jobs since 2009.
With the dissolution, the city will get back 78 percent of the money invested with DFJ Frontier due to liquidating the account and selling it on the secondary market, plus the $450,000 not spent. Also, only $468,000 remains of the co-investment account. With only City Councilman Neal Andrews dissenting, saying that the city should follow through on the 10-year contract since, after all, the city did see some gain in a volatile economic climate, the six remaining councilmembers voted in favor of the dissolution. Councilwomen Christy Weir and Cheryl Heitmann asked that during future budget talks the city consider another economic investment. The money will be returned to the general fund and could go toward other accounts that the city borrowed from during the recession.
The game of cities attracting businesses is a tricky one, surely. Many Californians recall all the hubbub earlier this year when Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry came here to lure businesses back to his home state, claiming it was nearly impossible to build a business in California. Whether he was successful in his mission remains to be seen. The business of attracting companies hasn’t been an easy one for Ventura. In fact, the city has lost a number of larger businesses in the last decade, including Kinko’s headquarters, Affinity Group, the Ventura County Star and several other mid- to large-sized businesses. Perhaps Andrews was right with his dissension — remaining vested in a job-growth initiative that has yielded some job creation is surely better than investing in nothing.
If the City Council is unhappy with the results of the job investment fund, perhaps it’s time to look past their own experience and know-how and take some advice from Lou Zacharilla, co-founder of the New-York-based Intelligent Community Forum:
“The best advice for local government administrators is to develop a group of ‘champions’ who understand what is at stake and what the opportunities are for the community in going to the next level. The champions should represent a diverse range of community people, but should ideally include representatives from local government, the academic or educational sector and the private sector. The champions should concentrate on a few ‘small’ wins and have a large community goal set in place.”
Perhaps this was done in Ventura in 2007. Maybe not. But it’s not too late to try again. Ventura as well as other cities in the county are starving for more jobs, and better-paying jobs at that, but mastering retention is also vital. Certainly, now is not the time to back away from the idea of growing our local economy. Without growth, we all lose.