The Colusa City Council last week adopted the final Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, a report that will serve as a roadmap intended to diversify and strengthen the local economy.
The council contracted with Kristy Levings, of Golden Oaks Business Services, to prepare the report, when they voted 4-1 in June to take their first dip into the city’s cannabis fund. The fund, now at around $450,000, is generated from the city’s developer agreement with cannabis manufacturing industries.
Colusa City Manager, Jesse Cain, said a CEDS report is a required document for most large grant applications, but that it would also be a plus for the city when they seek other sources of funding. The city plans to submit the CEDS with funding applications for the Pirelli biomass project, Levee Park marina, community center, downtown revitalization, infrastructure projects, and other grants that meet some of the goals identified within the report.
“Basically, the CEDS a key to unlock large pots of funding designed to help Colusa solve some of its problems,” Levings said, when presenting the draft version of the report at an earlier city council meeting. “The CEDS is a mirror – and it’s a crystal ball. It’s a mirror in the sense that a lot of data gets collected and distilled into one place that allows people to look at who you are and how you got there. It’s (a crystal ball) in that it allows you to look at where you want to go and how you want to get there.”
The launch for the report was a well-attended community workshop, on March 10, about the possibility of converting the old Pirelli plant into a multi-vendor industrial hub that converts organic material, such as almond hulls or industrial hemp, into building and other materials.
Levings said the discussion then evolved into what the city wanted to delve into further.
After COVID-19 forced most people to shelter in place, Levings and city officials used online social platforms to prepare the report. Levings said about 200 individuals participated in online surveys, focus group discussions, and webinar discussions, although there were complaints by residents that the online process limited the reach to just “tech savoy” individuals. There was also no outreach to the Hispanic community, which comprises 57 percent of Colusa’s population, officials admitted.
The end result, however, was a report much like the others the city had prepared in the past to be a blueprint for economic growth and success.
Councilman Tom Reische said this report was the second or third economic strategy prepared in his tenure on the council, which basically produced the same goals and strategies, which was the argument he made for hiring an Economic Development director, who could finally advance the strategy once and for all.
“I’ve been on the City Council long enough to see this show no less than twice,” Reishe said, during the other discussion, also on Aug. 18. “You either decide to take a chance to see what grant money can really do for you or put (the study) back on the same shelf. I don’t think we are going to see (the full) picture without a leap of faith in moving forward, or we can put it back on the shelf and we will never see it. The only way we will ever truly know is to give it a spin.”
Reishe said the city should not put off implementing economic strategies any longer, even if it does mean the additional expense for new staff.
“There is grant money out there,” he said. “We want to build streets and new sidewalks. We’re not going to get a big magic check from the state of California without asking for it and working for it, and we need someone to do that.”
According to the CEDS report, Colusa’s primary needs include an improved quality of life for its residents, (well maintained streets and parks, creation of new community facilities, enhanced local programing), small business support (access to resources), accommodations to support tourism efforts, and seeking out new industries that build a future workforce and improve the economy.
“Everybody knows that you cannot accomplish any of these infrastructure upgrades or support this local programming quest without funding,” Levings said. “There is no money in the budget, there is no money coming in from the sales tax. There is no money in the existing revenue streams to support the needs your citizens are requesting for a better quality of life.”
During the process for developing the CEDS report, officials said Colusa residents and businesses were very specific in their desires, including also wanting more sporting events, art, music and festivals, a downtown community center, a vibrant downtown economy, and better parks.
The CEDS report also outlines seven city policies that focus on increasing and introducing new revenue streams, providing businesses with business and technical support, maintaining and marketing existing assets, promoting a diverse economy, increasing the marketability of Colusa to potential new businesses, and lowering the unemployment rate.
The Economic Development director is expected to be in place by Oct. 1 to be the driver of the economic strategy outlined in the report. ♣