CEDA annual meeting held in Cresco
HCBT, City of Lewiston give resounding review of community and economic development resource
By Keri Bugenhagen, News Editor, Cresco Times Plain Dealer, with permission
HOWARD COUNTY, Iowa – Officials throughout the region gathered at the Cresco Country Club Friday, May 18 for the annual Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) meeting. As the meeting began, Mike Tuohy, chairman of the CEDA board, and Ron Zeigler, CEO/President of the organization, addressed attendees.
“We’re all small communities and we’re all working together,” said Tuohy. “It’s been a great opportunity for us to grow together.”
Zeigler also spoke Friday morning. “I think the organization is very strong,” he said. “It’s moving forward; it has gotten into different areas to try to help communities become sustainable.”
He added, “Thank you to everybody here for the confidence you have in our organization, the continued support, the willingness to spread the word – it is very much appreciated…Progress happens when good people come together to do good things.”
Zeigler further informed attendees that without the numerous team members and relationships the group has forged throughout the region, they would not be the success story they are today. CEDA currently assists more than 16 communities and five county organizations with their economic and community development needs – most existing in southeast Minnesota, but also reaching into Iowa to include Howard County Business & Tourism (HCBT), an umbrella organization that houses the Cresco Area Chamber of Commerce (CACC), Cresco Industrial Development Corporation (CIDC) and Howard County Economic Development (HCED).
HCBT President Gary Gooder addressed attendees Friday, speaking on behalf of CEDA and the success the area organization has found through them. “We’re really happy to have all of you here – and I think this might be the first meeting in Iowa that has more people from Minnesota!” he joked.
As a member of Howard County Economic Development (HCED) since its launch about 17 years ago, Gooder recalled the groups’ first goal, which was to try to get the county to become “one.”
“We have six communities in Howard County – Cresco being the largest community,” he said, “but all of these outlying communities [Chester, Elma, Lime Springs, Protivin and Riceville] are very important to Howard County.”
Gooder further said, “We wanted to serve all of the communities in the county, but we all know there can sometimes be friction between towns within the same county. Those were things we were trying to avoid – and we also wanted [to establish] good communication between the communities.”
Back in 1995, Gooder recalled, there were three great boards, including HCED, CACC and CIDC – but they were separate from each other. “Each group was always kind of doing their own thing,” he explained, “and some of us recognized this, but there still wasn’t good cohesion between the different boards.”
Gooder said the groups eventually tried various economic developers to bring them closer together, but by the third one the volunteers were starting to become frustrated.
“Low and behold a brochure wanders into our office from CEDA, right when we were looking for a different solution,” he said, adding, “We said let’s give them a shot.”
Now, nearly two years later, CEDA has successfully helped to instill cohesiveness between the three existing boards through the development of the umbrella organization known as HCBT. And throughout the entire process, Gooder said one of the group’s most notable accomplishments was to “always keep everybody in the loop.”
He added, “We thought it was very important for all of these boards to come together and continue to work for the common goal of simplifying [the process for] volunteers, so we can do our job as volunteers and get over the staffing issues that we were having – to streamline it [the process].”
Gooder further said, “Everything that we were hoping for we have accomplished. We have the leadership now in our office, and we are very happy because of it.”
CEDA expands to include city administration services
Just as CEDA has expanded their services into Iowa, they have also expanded services to assist within the realm of city administration. Mayor of Lewiston, Minn., Dave Sommer, and Lewiston City Council member, Larry Rupprecht, also provided a testimonial Friday morning about the partnership formed between Lewiston and CEDA.
“Lewiston is a town of about 1,600 people,” explained Sommer, adding that years ago the city only had a city clerk to conduct all of the city’s business, including billing, appointment setting, etc. “What Lewiston was doing was missing out on a lot of potential future projects that could help the town grow, because there was nobody there and people always relied on the [City] Council.”
He added, “Well, the Council only met once a month, and they couldn’t really get a lot accomplished.”
Thus, the Council eventually decided to hire a city administrator. Sommer said, however, like most small cities Lewiston was strapped with a limited budget. “You’ve got to do more with less,” he said, “and you do not attract a really high-caliber administrator that [is] able to bring all of the projects to the forefront.”
Due to the budgetary issues, Sommer explained that administrators would come and go, gaining experience in Lewiston only to move on with their careers in bigger cities. “We were always an entry-level [position]; we could never get things going,” he said, adding, “We eventually got to feeling that the town had [experienced] enough – that we need to expand.”
The moment of clarity led officials to think, “We’ve got to do something ingenious, something different, something off-the-wall,” said Sommer. “It was scary stepping into this, I have to admit that. We were going to do something that only one other town had done before – and that was thinking about contracting administration.”
With that, Lewiston Council member, Rupprecht, took the podium to further explain the situation the city was facing.
“The election in 2008 had really swamped the city,” he said. “There was enough dissatisfaction with what had happened previously, and the fact that nobody knew what to do was bothersome.”
He added, “The three council members including a mayor who were up for election were basically nudged out by about a 7-3 vote. It was overwhelming, and that was a message.”
For the next couple of years, the new Council that came in struggled with their attempts to catch up with what had been occurring administratively. “As Dave pointed out we weren’t going to pay the cost to have the high-caliber [administrator] come in. We looked for entry-level [candidates], and unfortunately the community was paying the price.”
About a year and a half ago, the Council appointed what was called an Administrative Options Commission – the members of the Commission included the mayor, two retired business owners, a retired bank cashier and a former engineering manager. “The Commission met in public meetings and started looking at all aspects of municipal administration,” said Rupprecht, “including Minnesota laws and the Lewiston City Code.”
He further explained, “We looked at the different administrating types in similar-sized cities, and job descriptions in the Lewiston Code as well as recommended provisions under the League of Minnesota Cities were studied. The Commission eventually hosted a public forum with neighboring cities to discuss possible collaboration in administrative services.”
At this point, the City had invited Zeigler, of CEDA, to the public forum. “His role was simply to provide guidance in the area of sharing services between communities. He had expertise and experience – and that is what CEDA as we know today had been doing for many years.”
When asked whether CEDA could provide city administrative services, the initial response was “No, that’s not in the business plan,” explained Rupprecht, “but I think we planted a seed. I don’t know if it was two weeks, or three weeks or a month – but Ron [Zeigler] came back to us and told us as city officials that CEDA had a desire to further explore the idea.”
In a recent news release Zeigler stated, “My first thought was that our organization at the time didn’t have the expertise to take on this kind of contract,” said Zeigler. “But as we discussed the possibilities, we began to see how this could be a model for a ‘city of the future,’ ” he continued.
Over the next few weeks a plan was developed by CEDA and Lewiston that included listing separately the duties of city administration, those that were clerical and those that were administrative. “We opened this up into three total categories: strategic planning, office clerical and office administrative,” said Rupprecht. “At this point CEDA was able to focus on the skills needed for those specific portions of city administration.”
Rupprecht said the end-result of Zeigler’s work is that Lewiston now contracts with CEDA for administration of city affairs, with annual savings predicted to be at 25 percent or more over the city’s previous cost.
“The first-year savings of course aren’t going to be reflected of ultimate savings as there is some redundancy and overlap,” explained Rupprecht, “but it’s the basics of something that’s never been done before.”
Lewiston administration is now performed by one full-time clerk, who happens to be Lewiston’s former interim city clerk, getting the city through the eight/nine-month period when they had zero administration services.
“We also have a 60 percent administrative staff person, who for our luck of the draw happens to have a master’s in public administration,” said Rupprecht.
The City Council member did confess that there were a few barriers as the process with CEDA began. “There was a little trepidation on the Council’s part in going somewhere where no other city had gone before,” said Rupprecht. “There was a lot of resistance to change within our community, and I’m sure there would be within any community. There was also a perception that this new Council had intended to purge the old employees – get rid of what everybody thought was the problem – and those perceptions are tough to overcome.”
Rupprecht said a simple way to deal with perceptions is by holding practices within a public forum. “Every meeting the Administrative Options Commission held was publically posted, duly noted – every newspaper, every bulletin board had a listing of these meetings,” he said. “We invited the entire community to come to these meetings.”
How long did this entire process take?
Rupprecht said, “The Administrative Options Commission was appointed in December of 2010. We began our deliberations in February of 2011 and we agreed on a contract first draft with CEDA in June of 2011. That opened up a review phase . . . that ended in October of 2011. The contract was approved by the City in November of 2011, and began at that point.”
He added, “We’d probably like to give you the pluses and minuses, but unfortunately we can’t because we don’t see any minuses – and that’s not a bad problem.”
CEDA provides competent staffing, cost of training for staffing and Lewiston’s problems and issues now have the entire CEDA organization available for consultation. “That’s pretty amazing,” said Rupprecht.
To learn more about CEDA visit www.cedausa.com.