Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Why CBDC didn't work and why cities need a pro-business mayor

I wrote about Carbondale Business Development Corporation (CBDC) and how Brad killed it off, and made the business development function a full time position in city hall. There was no stimulating comments about that entry, given that we seem to be getting 10 per now, was kind of surprising.

For many years Carbondale had a business development problem. Buildings were sitting empty and certainly not much was being built beyond the Mall area in town. The city was sluggish and difficult to deal with. The mayor's were never in city hall and the planning and zoning folks were jerks. The reputation and reality of Carbondale was city hall was driving the business away to Marion or anyplace else.

Heads were put together, what to do, what to do? The decision was to outsource business development outside of city hall, to CBDC. CBDC was given a $250k per year budget and a non-profit corporate structure. A blue ribbon board of directors was assembled and CBDC was off and running. I have written about running anything by committee here recently. They also seeded the CDBC with the old Tuck Tape plant on North Illinois Ave, the city got this property in a tax break deal (a huge old trashed, brick building) and the Carbondale Industrial Park(s).

One of the unintended consequences of CDBC is that city hall used it as an excuse to provide as little help and service as was possible to anyone who wasn't a city insider. In a city that was already unwelcoming to business, this made Carbondale head toward the worst possible communities to move your business.

CDBC started cooking along and immediately got an offer for the Tuck Tape building by Southern Recycling. It was rejected, because they felt they could attract a better business for the building. The result was that 10 or 12 years later, Southern Recycling bought the building for a cheaper price and is running a pretty neat little business out of it. Green capitalism in Southern Illinois, go figure.

It turns out that CDBC was/became a mess. It has an executive director who was a salesman and not an entrepreneur. The board was very "important" in the decision making process, so they made decisions on a month by month basis. The businesses looking to relocate to Carbondale want decisions on a minute by minute basis, so the businesses when elsewhere.

Very soon after they started CDBC had left the area of business and economic development, and moved into the business of real estate transactions. There were years where all they did was try to sell lots in our city industrial park (but didn't sell any). This lead to years and years of business stagnation. No new ideas. Terrible results.

One of the problems with having a blue ribbon board, is that those people are busy. After not to long having no accomplishments, they get busy doing something productive instead. This is one of the main problems with programs like "Study Circles" is that the most successful people, people with kids, people with commitments, don't come. These kinds of public committees, almost always spiral their way down unless they have a real driver on the board or as Executive Director.

One example of an vibrant organization doing business development in town is Carbondale Main Street. But that is another whole topic, I'll get back to it later.

I moved to town 5.5 years ago, I soon created an expression about CDBC, "real estate development, isn't business development." They had gotten down to the point where they were just trying to sell real estate and doing nothing else.

So the city was doing nothing, because they were paying CDBC and it was easier to blow business off. CDBC was doing nothing because they had most of the bad traits of a committee based organization.

Since this was 100% clear to everyone involved that CDBC was a disaster, so the question is who should fix it? Clearly, no one had the ball. The CDBC was getting their $250k plus and had travel money for everyone involved and we are Illinois, we don't give back free money in this state. The mayor and city council were part time and busy kissing babies. The city manager, was cheerfully allowing his staff to stonewall doing anything for any business, by pointing them to an organization that everyone knew was broken. This continued for years.

Brad became mayor and held his first State of the City speech, the highlight of that speech for me was the end of funding for CDBC.

I'm going to claim that that only by having a full time mayor could they do the work required to rid us of the CDBC. You have to be there to listen to people and have the time to put into figuring out a solution to replace them if you made a move. You could claim that the city manager would eventually get around to fixing something that was costing the city so much, but for over 10 years, our city manager didn't.

At the heart of it, this is why business has been picking up in Carbondale for the last 4 years. Brad is down at city hall everyday, understands business and works hard at it each day. History tells us that once Brad is gone from being in city hall each day, our current city bureaucracy will quickly switch over to doing as little work as possible, fairly quickly. Like SIU, all the key players never change, so the results are destined to be the same as before.

Your comments are welcome.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

How much does being Mayor of Carbondale pay, and why is it enough to have as a full-time job alone without other means of support? If it isn't, then how is Brad able to afford being Mayor full-time if he has no other job?

If the problem is the fact that we are a City Manager run town, then maybe we ought to change the system so that the Mayor's position is full time and provide a salary that allows the Mayor to do that job full time.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Being mayor pays $9k per year, with no benefits (I think).

I have an analysis of how Brad can afford to be mayor, it is based on saving money, being single and having made a really good salary for a number of years. He also got $150k from the state recently. I suspect that Brad might well have $1M in total assets.

You are correct, we should change to a mayor led system. The city manager doesn't work in Carbondale.

Anonymous said...

Did you rewrite my comment? Hmm? Doesn't quite look like what I remember having written...

Peter in Carbondale said...

No, Blogger doesn't allow you to touch comments. I can choose to allow or reject then in whole, without editing.

I can rewrite the original message, but I never do (as you know, I love typos). I can't update my comments, which is why they sometimes aren't as good at the end if they are long. :)