Giving Monroe’s economic future more strategy

Mayor’s advisory board to begin meeting in January

Kelly Sullivan

Monroe’s volunteer Economic Development Advisory Board will gather for the first time this month.

Appointed by Mayor Geoffrey Thomas, the group will be convened from January until about late spring or early summer, with their first meeting set for 8-9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 11. Members are expected to finalize recommendations in time for next year’s budget process.

The temporary committee is part of a broader strategy targeting tourism and the economy. Thomas and city administrator Deborah Knight started developing after  she was sworn in back in August.

Enough people applied to fill the maximum amount of available seats. The 11-member advisory board will figure out ways to implement ideas that are already a part of Monroe’s Downtown Master Plan and Economic Development Plan, which is a standalone plan adopted into Monroe’s 2015-2035 Comprehensive Plan.

The city’s driving document sets six overarching areas of focus for economic development. A thriving Main Street and U.S. Highway 2 retail corridors, walkability, promoting recreation, supporting new and existing businesses and continued growth are included. Projects are listed under each section that could move Monroe toward those goals.

The emphasis of the advisory board will be on how the city can take action. Knight has said determining how to carry out projects has been seen as somewhat absent from Monroe’s planning documents.

The concept to include residents first came up during meetings with the city’s department heads. During follow-up talks it was agreed that asking the community to weigh in on priorities would bring a wider range of perspectives to the discussion.

Applications were accepted in October. It was originally announced that the mayor would make recommendations in mid-November, but the proposed appointments were pushed back about a month.

People were selected who could represent a range of sectors, including experience in the retail, medical, real estate, marketing and dining industries. Pharm A Save Monroe co-owner Sue Graafstra, EvergreenHealth Monroe’s new Chief Administrative Officer Renee Jensen, business owners Patti Gibbons, Heather Rousey and Tracy Minick and Monroe Rotary Club president Katy Woods were included in the list of appointments the Monroe City Council unanimously voted to approve in December.

Volunteers will also bring different skills and experiences from community groups. Tami Kinney is currently involved in the Monroe Historical Society and Cynthia Chadwick was formerly a member of the Monroe Arts Council. Premier Polaris co-owner Linda Driscoll recently advocated to allow wheeled all-terrain vehicles on city streets, and has lobbied for their use at the state level.

Many of those who applied wrote in their applications that they wanted to contribute to the city’s growth and help build a strong economy.

“I would like to see Monroe become a healthy, thriving community that draws people into its downtown core to experience culture and enrichment,” Kinney wrote.

Applicants had to agree to meet regularly until the group is dissolved in about six months. During that time they will be asked to review and prioritize short-term, mid-term and long-term priorities for Monroe. They will need to address costs, labor and revenue sources, among other logistics, according to council documents.

The Monroe Planning Commission and parks board will process the advisory board’s recommendations. The council will vet the results of the commission’s review in the 2019 budget.

“Working with business owners from across the city is part of my on-going economic development strategy to build a vibrant economy,” said Thomas in an October city news release. “Input from the business community on priority investments is vital for our city’s economic success.”

Knight introduced the concept of an advisory board to the council in early fall. The structure of the group saw some opposition. Councilmember Jim Kamp, who ran against Thomas in this year’s mayoral race, has referred to the board as a “study group.” He believes a more robust commission will be needed to affect real change in the city.

Following the council’s vote, Thomas thanked volunteers who joined the city’s boards and committees. Their efforts contribute to policy development through the recommendations they make that come before him and the city council.

“I know the time that you invest is worthwhile and you are making a difference in our community,” said Councilmember Kevin Hanford, “and if people like you wouldn’t step up, then our community would look very different.”

Monroe city clerk Elizabeth Adkisson said, because the board is temporary, its members would not be sworn in. During the same meeting the council approved appointments to the city’s parks board and salary and planning commissions. Vacancies on Monroe’s ethics board and civil services and salary commissions are scheduled for the council’s approval at next Tuesday’s meeting.

All advisory board meetings are open to the public.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment