Joint Economic Community Development Boards: Purpose and Composition
To foster communication about economic and community development among local governments and members of their communities, the Growth Policy Act required local governments in each non-metropolitan county to establish Joint Economic and Community Development Boards (JECDBs) or request that an existing board be deemed sufficiently similar.63 These county boards and their executive committees must meet at least four times a year in order for local governments in each county to be eligible for state grants.64 Within this broad framework, these boards are free to focus their efforts as they wish. Some boards choose to do more, while others regard establishing grant eligibility as the only reason to meet and consider the meeting requirement excessive and unnecessary. Still others would like to see the boards given broader authority so they would have more reasons to meet.
Efforts to Make JECDBs Successful
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) uses JECDBs in two of its programs: the ThreeStar Program and the Select Tennessee certified sites program. The department retooled the ThreeStar program after the Growth Policy Act was passed to make the JECDBs a part of it. Each participating county’s ThreeStar program must be administered by the county JECDB or its designee. According to the department’s website,
participation in the ThreeStar program is based on an annual evaluation and activity plan. Local community leaders and Joint Economic and Community Development Boards are encouraged to implement activities that will impact the community’s competitiveness in a global economy. Participating counties (and cities in these counties) will be eligible for a four percent discount (for eligible projects) on both the business development and community development ability-to-pay calculations (CDBG and FastTrack) each year the county fulfills the requirements of the ThreeStar program. Additionally, only cities located in a county that is an active participate in the ThreeStar program will be eligible to participate in the Tennessee Downtowns program. Finally, there is an annual grant for Tier 2 and Tier 3 counties to serve as seed money for activities (not to offset general operating expenses) focused on improving at least one of the measured areas of the program: health and welfare, public safety, and education and workforce development.
Counties are divided into three tiers based on unemployment, poverty, and income. Tier 3 counties are those with the greatest needs. Eighty-five Tennessee counties were granted ThreeStar status in 2014.65 The Select Tennessee Certified Sites Program assists communities in preparing sites for investment and job creation. According to the department’s website,
the Select Tennessee Certified Sites Program was developed as a rigorous process aimed at elevating Tennessee’s sites to the level of preparedness necessary for corporate investment. The program will market the sites to a targeted group of site selection consultants and business leaders in Tennessee’s key industry clusters. TNECD has established a reimbursable grant to assist communities in Tier 2 and Tier 3 counties with the preparation of sites through the Select Tennessee Certified Sites program.
Because counties may often have several potential sites for development but limited funds to prepare and market them, the department requires that local JECDBs determine which site or sites are in the best interest of the community. The JECDB handles the application process, and if a site is approved to move forward by the state’s consultants, the JECDB coordinates a site visit and meetings with the consultants and local representatives.66 The state provides financial grants to assist Tier 2 and 3 counties with their applications.
On their own, JECDBs can help bridge gaps between cities and counties by bringing the different leaders together regularly. Examples where they have been successful include
- Wilson County, where the JECDB predates the Growth Policy Act, and is the county’s economic development entity and focuses on recruiting industrial, retail, office, and business activity;
- Marshall County, where the board was considered essential in partnering with the chamber of commerce to develop a “shop local” program, establishing wireless internet in Lewisburg’s main square, and promoting the Jack Trail, the Quilt Trail, and the Civil War Trail;
- Perry County, where the board was instrumental in the county receiving a $1.76 million grant from the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for the reconstruction of the roof of the NYX industrial building;67
- Giles County, whose industrial developer credits the board with the recent expansions of Integrity Tool & Mold, Richland LLC, and Frito-Lay;
- Wayne County, where a former Clifton city manager recounted how the JECDB was able to pool funds from the county and three cities to hire a full-time economic development director and successfully applied for a state housing grant;68 and
- Cheatham County, where the JECDB applied for and was selected to host one of the National Association of Counties’ five County Prosperity Summits in 2015. These summits help develop strategies to strengthen regional relationships and identify ways to grow and sustain economic development.69
Washington County’s board joined forces in 2009 with two other local development boards to form a new, more broadly based council that gained recognition from LGPAC in 2014 as a sufficiently similar board to serve as the county’s JECDB. Now called the Washington County Economic Development Council, this board has two dozen members, representing financial institutions, utilities, East Tennessee State University, and the health care, real estate, and construction industries, along with city and county officials. The board received an award from the International Economic Development Council for leading the renovation and reuse of a former CC&O railroad depot in downtown Johnson City and is collaborating regionally with neighboring Sullivan County.
Combining JECDBs with Other Local Entities
The membership of each JECDB is established by interlocal agreement and, at a minimum, must include the county mayor or executive, the city mayor or city manager of each city in the county, and one person who owns land classified under the greenbelt law, as well as representatives of citizens, current industry, and businesses. Options offered to expand the roles of these boards include combining them with the Growth Policy Act’s county coordinating committees and allowing them to serve as joint industrial development corporations.
Coordinating committees are broad-based groups that include all of the mayors in each county, as well as representatives of the largest municipal and non-municipal utilities, the largest school system, the largest chamber of commerce, the soil conservation district, and four members representing environmental, construction, and homeowner interests.70 Although there is some overlap in membership between these committees and the JECDBs, the JECDBs are not required to include school systems, utilities, and soil conservation districts. In order to serve the purposes required of JECDBs, the consolidated board or committee would be required to meet four times a year, not just when necessary to revise the county’s growth plan.
Industrial development corporations—commonly known as industrial development boards (IDBs)—are non-profit corporations with broad economic development powers to acquire, lease, sell, enter into loans, issue bonds,71 borrow money, and employ and compensate agents.72 Although local elected officials cannot serve on their own single-government IDBs, the statutory membership of joint IDBs is similar enough to that of JECDBs to make granting their powers to JECDBs reasonable. Office holders, including mayors as well as city managers or other comparable chief administrative officers—but not any other employees—may serve as directors of joint corporations.73 Otherwise, none of the directors may be an officer or employee of the local government that incorporates it.74 This does not, however, prevent officers and employees of other local governments from serving as directors (e.g., city officials serving on a board incorporated by a county government).
63 Tennessee Code Annotated Section 6-58-114. Twenty-six boards have been deemed “sufficiently similar” by LGPAC based on information from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
65 “ThreeStar Status Awarded to 85 Counties,” Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, accessed August 14, 2014, http://www.tn.gov/news/36266.
66 “Select Tennessee Certified Sites,” Tennessee Department of Economic Development, accessed February 10, 2015, http://www.tnecd.com/sites/certified-sites/apply-now.
67 “US Department of Commerce Announces $1.7 Million to Support Job Creation in Perry County, Tennessee, in the Wake of 2010 Floods,” US Economic Development Administration, accessed February 12, 2015, http://www.eda.gov/news/press-releases/2012/03/07/Perry_County_Tennessee.htm.
68 Dana Deem, MTAS Municipal Management Consultant, e-mail message to Bob Moreo, October 2, 2014.
69 “County Prosperity Summits,” National Association of Counties, accessed February 12, 2015, http://www.naco.org/resources/programs-and-initiatives/county-prosperity-summit.
70 Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 6-58-104.
71 According to Tennessee Attorney General Opinion No. 05-176, JECDBs do not have the authority to construct a manufacturing building or to lend or grant funds contributed to the Board by the participating local governments to an industrial development corporation. The opinion added that there is no statutory authority under which the interlocal agreement could be written to authorize the Board to issue bonds on behalf of all its members.
72 Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-53-302.
73 Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-53-104 does not define “officers”, but provides that the “city manager or other comparable chief administrative officer” may serve as a director.
74 Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-53-301.