Economic Development Director Position Discussed

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File Photo: Stephen Masten
File Photo: Stephen Masten

Stephen Masten, who was hired on a one-year contract as the Economic Development Director for the City of Milford, issued a letter on August 6, 2013 thanking those who helped him work toward improving business growth and economic development in the city. Due to budget constrictions, the city chose not to fund the position in its current format, and was therefore unable to renew Mr. Masten’s contract.

“It gives me great satisfaction to have participated in business development and infrastructure investment strategy planning to prepare Milford for the next stage of positive growth,” Mr. Masten explained in a letter emailed earlier this month. “By offering coordination of services and business development initiatives, economic development efforts this past year have sparked economic progress and lasting growth for the city.” The duties of economic development now fall to City Manager, Richard Carmean.

“This is a situation we are keeping on the fire,” Mr. Carmean wrote in a letter emailed along with Mr. Masten’s. “I will try to continue to stay involved in matters of economic development as it pertains to our city, but needless to say, I will not have the amount of time Steve had to do things that should be done.” On Thursday, August 15, 2013, the Economic Development Commission met, and one subject discussed was the need for an Economic Development Director.

During an Economic Development Committee meeting on Thursday, August 15, Councilman Garrett Grier, Chairman of the Economic Development Commission, said that he sees a need for an Economic Development Director, and that he has seen when working in other towns how critical such a position is for a town. However, he feels that Milford may need to take a different approach than they did when hiring for the position the previous year. Other council members agreed.

“I think we need an Economic Development Director, but I think we need different guidelines this time,” said Councilman James Starling. “Perhaps the director should provide reports on a monthly basis, advising council of the things they are doing and involved in, so council can stay on top of it. Mr. Grier agreed that reporting to council was not something that happened often enough over the past year, and that he preferred that anyone hired report directly to the City Manager, and therefore, interviewing and hiring be done by Mr. Carmean.

“The city manager is qualified and very experienced, and is certainly qualified to make that decision,” Mr. Grier said. “I feel it is more appropriate than the group that oversaw the project the first time, and I was part of that selection group.” Councilman Bryan Shupe agreed that there is a need for the position as well, but also agreed with Mr. Starling regarding accountability.

“There is no question we need an Economic Development Director,” Mr. Shupe said. “But there needs to be some accountability that the City Manager has brought to our attention to be sure the work is being done. Looking at individuals to perform the job is a good idea, but we also may want to look at contracting the work with national firms who do this for a living.” Mr. Shupe said that all options need to be weighed and that Mr. Carmean is an excellent resource for the best way to move forward. Mr. Grier reminded the commission that cold-calling everyday may be a portion of what is necessary for economic development, but it is only a small portion.

“They should be working with the local businesses we already have and trying to help with their needs,” Mr. Grier said. “They are also working with new businesses wanting to come to Milford, get them through DelDOT and help with all the agencies and permits that are needed to build on a raw piece of land. They need to work with the city planner, Christine Crouch and the city manager as well as city council and local businesses, not just the Chamber of Commerce.” Mr. Grier explained that Jo Schmeiser, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford was sorry to see Mr. Masten’s position eliminated because it was nice to have that one contact at City Hall. Now that the position no longer exists, other staff members are taking on some of his role, but are too busy to focus totally on economic development needs.

“It is the consensus of the committee that we need someone in that position,” Mr. Grier said. “Who they will report to is still in question.” Some members of the commission felt that Mr. Carmean already had a lot of responsibility, and that it may be better for the Economic Development Director to report either directly to the commission or to Council itself. Councilman Skip Pikus felt reporting to Mr. Carmean was appropriate, but suggested that a more detailed job description needs to be in place before council hires someone in the position.

“We need to set up some type of program of what this person is going to do and who this person will report to before we jump in and hire someone tomorrow or the next day,” Mr. Pikus explained. “The standard needs to be established and council needs to determine what this person is expected to do. I do feel the City Manager is qualified to review and critique anyone to determine if they are qualified for the position.”

According to Mr. Grier, an economic development account from the sale of the “Wawa property” exists that could be used to fund the position. The Economic Development Committee passed a motion to allow the City Manager to develop a refined job description that would include future needs of the city with the direction to hire an Economic Development Director with those funds as soon as possible.