By Leilani Haywood
Creating quality jobs and improving infrastructure were some of the priorities LS City Council members expressed for the city’s economic development policy at the June 14, 2018 working session. Mayor Bill Baird led the discussion with Mayor Pro Tem Beto Lopez and Councilmembers Bob Johnson, Fred DeMoro, Craig Faith, Diane Forte and Phyllis Edson. Councilwoman Trish Carlyle was absent.
Mayor Baird said he would like the council to develop its own vision for economic development and for decisions to be driven by data points. “I would like to make our decision making consistent and easier,” he said. “The policy needs to be a reflection of our vision. We need to provide some vision for ourselves for the development community. I’ve pushed for data-driven or proforma based assessment. I know staff brings forth data. I want a mechanism or device for staff to follow. I call it a goal-oriented approach.”
Some suggested data points evaluate projects include hiring locally, buying local services and products, working with contractors or businesses that are minority-owned or disadvantaged or hiring students from trade schools. “When we look at these incentive policies we’re looking at what we’re giving away,” said Councilmember Edson. “We’re not requiring anything from these developers. We could ask for in some of our contracts, when developers do construction, to include percentages with working with women-owned contractors, minority-owned contractors, disadvantaged contractors or have contractors hire students that train in the construction trades. All these requirements give us more bang for our buck.”
Councilman DeMoro agreed with Edson. “I embrace what Councilmember Edson said about minority-owned businesses and handicapped business. I would be in favor of having a percentage of product and services from local contractors instead of having someone put in an HVAC system from Minnesota, have them from Lee’s Summit.” DeMoro added that the state of Missouri has requirements for hiring local contractors and using products and services from Missouri.
Several councilmembers debated the vision statement created by the 2013 city council and areas of focus that emphasize the development of the downtown area. Johnson questioned the priority of downtown for economic development with other areas of Lee’s Summit that need attention. “The community is proud of downtown,” he said. “If we still have $1.6 billion retail sales for Lee’s Summit and you look at the community improvement district, I think given they (downtown) generate two percent of total sales of Lee’s Summit, I think there are other parts of Lee’s Summit that need our attention. I know we have a nice downtown, but I don’t know if it’s an economic driver.”
Councilwoman Forte disagreed with Johnson. “I have a lot of friends who live in areas on the other side of the state line and they’re trying to do what we’ve done for our city,” she said. “We have a great attraction to our city,” Lopez added that you can’t look at just the retail sales aspect of the downtown area. “We have visitors from all over the metro because of this facility,” he said. “I think we need to keep preserving what’s already begun. We already have the catalyst here.”
Baird agreed with Forte and Lopez. “We’ve got the lead on all the downtowns,” he said. “We always have to keep the downtown in mind when we want to stay the best,” Johnson responded that the idea he was suggesting ignoring downtown was crazy but his goal was to create quality jobs.
Lopez suggested that the council coordinate messaging and vision with Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council. He said that before he was elected to City Council that he heard from developers that Lee’s Summit wasn’t friendly to developers. Baird added that he wanted to send a message to developers that Lee’s Summit was open for business. “Here’s what we’re passionate about, here’s how we would like to be communicated with,” he said. “It’s (development project) got to be a good fit for Lee’s Summit whatever our passions are from the jobs and infrastructure.”