Last year the Cook County-Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority (EDA) obtained a grant to have a third party evaluate the success and necessity of the organization. The preliminary analysis is in, and so far the result is mostly positive.
A small audience was on hand Tuesday evening, July 20th to hear what Neil Linscheid had to say about the EDA. Linscheid is a Community Economics educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, and he’s been working to evaluate the organization over the last several months. He won’t release his full report until early August, but he’s reached some pretty significant conclusions so far.
“You have this institution that was created. It has a purpose and it has powers,” said Linscheid. “And it can do things in your community. Is this a useful thing? I’m comfortable saying yes, having the EDA is a useful thing. It allows you to take on large projects and take risks for economic development.”
Overall, Linscheid sees the EDA as doing worthwhile work in the community. He pointed to success with low-income housing rehabilitation and even gave his support for the Cedar Grove Business Park development in Grand Marais—a project that has left the city with significant debt and has yet to really take off as was originally hoped.
“It seems as if you have a very positive future with that business park to look forward to,” said Linscheid. “It has great potential for future development. There’s still time that needs to take place to show those benefits. In the report I’ll have several things that I’ll be providing to you to help document that, so that as that project grows and matures you’ll be able to say definitively, in another ten years, this is the impact that it has been and this is how things have changed as a result of this.”
Linscheid was less comfortable giving an opinion about Superior National Golf Course. He says that to really understand its impacts on the local economy a separate study would have to be done.
“When you’re looking at recreation activities, the most challenging thing to find is whether people are coming to do that recreation, or whether they’re doing that recreation because they’re already here,” says Linscheid. “And it seemed to me there wasn’t a lot of evidence or data to tell me either way, which it was, whether people were coming to play golf or not. So what we can rest on is that last year around 19,000 rounds of golf were played. And I think, whether you have a number or not, you know, and as I’ve talked to people, they said that it has been a benefit, and that people do come and they do spend money.”
There are areas where the EDA could do better, says Linscheid, including engaging and listening to the community.
“Over the ten years that I looked, there hadn’t been invitations to other groups to participate in economic development, or the community for that matter. The community has had opportunities to participate in public hearings and come to your meetings, but there hasn’t been a deliberate effort to reach out to other people with other ideas in the community.”
Linscheid also says the EDA could be better at following up on leads and suggestions.
“There have been people that have come to this group and said, ‘I have an idea for economic development that I’d like to pursue,’ but the follow up with those leads and things like that hasn’t seemed to take place. I hope that in the future you’ll look at that and see those as great opportunities where people are reaching out to you. There also hasn’t been a really clear, deliberate guide on where things are heading.”
Linscheid’s full report is expected to be available after July 31st. The EDA plans to post a link to the report on the Cook County website.