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A new approach to economic development in Waynesboro?

Story by Chris Graham

Waynesboro Vice Mayor Frank Lucente is proposing an overhaul of the city’s approach to economic development, and what he has in mind seems to have at least the initial support of the entire Waynesboro City Council.

“The Economic Development Authority consists of seven good people who are pretty aware of what’s going on in the community. They have more tools for economic development than the city has. They can sell bonds, buy land, transfer land, they can borrow, they can make loans. They can do a lot of things,” said Lucente, who laid out a vision for having the city set its Economic Development Authority on a path toward quasi-independence at tonight’s city-council meeting.

The idea, according to Lucente, would be to have the EDA modeled after the Waynesboro Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which is run by a seven-member board of directors that is appointed by city council, but otherwise operates without direct oversight from the council or city government.

“I see the EDA as doing something in the same line. This EDA board could focus on economic development with its seven-member board. This will free the city council up to focus on city-council business,” Lucente said.

The EDA would still require something in the way of city funding, Lucente said, “but it’s my hope that the authority would become self-funding, as the Housing Authority has done,” Lucente said.

“The result of this would be to hopefully free up money that the city council is now putting out for economic development, which is a sizable amount. We could free this money up for other city services that we have needs for down the road. I understand we’d have to seed money to them in the beginning, but it would be my hope that they could become self-sufficient,” Lucente said.

City Councilwoman Nancy Dowdy has thrown her support behind the Lucente proposal, though Dowdy does suggest that the city dot its i’s and cross its t’s before moving forward. “Before I would support them being independent, the EDA being independent, I want to make sure that we do this in the right way and don’t hurry into something. And by that, I mean I want to make sure that they have a mission statement, are set up properly, are ready to go forward, and that the representation on this is what it needs to be,” Dowdy said at tonight’s city-council meeting.

“I definitely think it’s definitely something that we need to look at. I’m very supportive of the concept. I want to set them up to succeed,” Dowdy said.

Councilwoman Lorie Smith is also on board as long as a basic condition is met before moving forward. “There needs to be an alignment of the council’s vision with the EDA’s vision so that we’re all working in concert and on the same page with where we want the city to head. I think that that’s going to be very important, that they are going to be reflecting what we as a council want to see for the future of Waynesboro,” Smith said tonight.

Lucente said he has been talking up the idea around town in recent weeks, “and the only downside to this that I’ve heard so far is that council loses power. Yes, we do, in a sense. But that’s not a concern of mine. We still have the power to appoint these board members, as we do the Housing Authority. So we still have some control, and we have control of the funding mechanisms,” Lucente said.

“More people working for the improvement of the city is always a good thing,” Lucente said.

Smith said the idea “certainly merits more discussion.” “I think the more efficient we can be, and, as you say, Mr. Lucente, the more that we can put people that have expertise and representation from the business community on ventures for economic development, I think that that will be an asset to the council,” Smith said.

“I agree that we need to explore this, and I’m fully supportive of that,” Smith said.

augusta free press
augusta free press