Tuesday, April 20, 2021

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Colusa releases draft economic strategic plan

The Colusa City Council last week released a draft of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for public review and comment.

Kristy Levings, of Golden Oak Business Services, prepared the report for the city for the purpose of developing an action plan to diversify and strengthen the Colusa economy.

Levings said the creation of the CEDS report actually started at a public workshop on March 10 with the realization that economic development was a larger subject than just the Pirelli project she was working on.

Colusa officials had contracted with Golden Oak at the beginning of 2020 to help create a bio-industry hub at the former Pirelli Cable plant, largely in response to Colusa being designated an “Opportunity Zone,” through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The Act, signed by Pres. Donald J. Trump on Dec. 22, 2017, opened the door to new and significant sources of state and federal funding for economically distressed communities, officials said.

However, the city’s recent economic development momentum was nearly derailed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, but city officials and Levings opted to push through the hardships.

“The city of Colusa has not been immune to the effects of this disease and, as of now, is continually evolving its response,” Levings said in her July 21 presentation via Zoom to the city council.

Most of Levings’ work to develop the CEDS report, which required a great deal of public input, shifted to online platforms. Altogether, about 200 individuals participated in taking online surveys, participated in or watched community webinars hosted by Mayor Josh Hill, or shared information and ideas via email, Levings said.

As a result of this work, four major community goals emerged, highlighting the areas that participants would like to see the city focus its energies on: improved quality of life (infrastructure and programming); foster innovation and industry sector development; provide small business support; and rebrand Colusa and enhance tourism.

The City Council is expected to finalize the report, which is to be a partner document for future grant applications, at the city’s Aug. 4 meeting. The meeting will also continue the discussion on economic development strategies and possible policies associated with the CEDS report.

“This report is a good jumpstart, I would say,” said Councilman Tom Reische. “It’s made people aware of what we are looking into. It’s created a tremendous amount of energy in the city of Colusa, and it’s gotten people excited about it. They are looking into it, they’re interested, and they need to be educated.”

City officials are still toying with the idea of hiring Levings as a permanent director of economic development and tourism, despite the projected $497,000 deficit in the 2021 budget. While the idea has community members divided on whether the city should make the consultant a permanent employee, thus adding health insurance and pension benefit costs to her current contract ($6,800 per month) salary, the debate has also sparked more public interest in economic development, which was shelved by the previous City Council more than a decade ago.

“The last three of four weeks has been particularly enlightening because I’ve talked to nearly every business owner downtown and have had countless Zoom meetings,” said City Manager Jess Cain. “People are getting excited. People do want to see change. People do want to see things happen here.”

Councilman Greg Ponciano has proposed the formation of a goal-driven formal committee or commission that includes the County of Colusa to tackle economic development issues regionally, as is done in most jurisdictions, particularly as community enthusiasm and participation tends to wane over time.   

“I think by a formal committee – with terms like we have with our other committees – it keeps them engaged,” Ponciano said. “We have monthly meetings and it doesn’t seem like a lifetime obligation.”

The City Council plans to discuss a committee formation on Aug. 4, in addition to establishing some goals.

Ponciano said he is hopeful the city will move in that direction, with necessary grant writing done either in house or contracted when necessary, as other cities do throughout California.

“It works,” Ponciano said.

Ponciano said he is hopeful the City Council will live up to what the city’s website already says they do: “The City of Colusa is partnering with the County of Colusa to promote economic development and vitality for our region. As part of that partnership, a Joint Powers Authority is being formed to be your single point of contact for economic development questions in the County and City of Colusa.”

Councilman Brent Nobles said he would love to be on a committee like that.

“As a business owner here, this is my whole life,” Nobles said. “This is my town.”

Whatever manner the city moves economic development forward, Colusa officials said they must find a way to get people off Interstate 5 to Colusa for the city to thrive. The city also wants to provide more activities for children and the public, support small businesses, and develop more industry to create jobs, according to the CEDS report. The City Council will ultimately decide whether it is worth the additional investment to hire Levings permanently to drive the economic strategy to fruition.

To view the draft report, click here.

The city will take comments on the draft CEDS report through the end of the week. Comments can be sent to clerk@cityofcolusa.com before 4 PM on Aug. 4.

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