AFTER MORE THAN five years of discussion and almost a year of bureaucratic delay, the district now has an Office of Business and Economic Development, along with a newly appointed director, a budget of about $300,000 for the year and a small staff. The office is charged with carrying out the formidable task of creating an "improved econimic climate." According to the city's leadership, that means a host of things, from attracting businesses to creating additional job opportunities, from supporting minority business programs to anticipating the growing needs of the city in a metropolitan context. In other words, it could mean everything, or nothing, depending on how quickly this new office can bring its broad and blurry mandate into some sharp focus.
Unlike most new agencies, it shouldn't have to spend a year or more figuring out what to do. There is an up-to-date master plan readily at hand. Issued in November of last year by the Mayor's Overall Economic Development Advisory Committee and entitled "A Blueprint for Action," it is one of the most carefully contructed economic-development plans for the city in recent memory. The 23-member commission produced a number of specific recommendations precisely for the purpose of guiding the OBED over the next two years. Included are plans for expanding job opportunities, encouraging industrial growth, broadening commercial activity in neighborhoods and promoting more business activity downtown.
The "Blueprint" bears down heavily on the need to incorporate the activities of a wide variety of local agencies - dealing with everything from public safety and transportation to housing and evironmental control - into some coordinated effort to stimulate development. The OBED has no executive authority of its own; it cannot, by itself, generate jobs or compete with suburban commercial development. But it can put together the efforts of other agencies whose programs and projects relate to the general problem of stimulating economic activity. And, on its own, the new office can, moreover, work closely with private developers by recommmending promising sites for new commercial projects, with a view to fitting private undertakings to public needs. It can also help private industry through the bureacratic maze.
The real need, however, is for a coordinated public and private effort. For this, the new Office of Business and Economic Development can be a highly useful instrument. But the success of this effort will come down in the end - as most things usually do in this town - to the performance of the city's leadership.