Economic development organization, Town leader spar over incorporation

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BELOIT - Officials from the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation (GBEDC) are questioning the effect the Town of Beloit's actions, including dropping its membership to the GBEDC and moving forward with incorporation, will have on the region.

Town Administrator Ian Haas announced late last year the township would drop membership to both the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce and the GBEDC, effective Jan. 1.

Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation Chair Brian Anderson said in a news release Wednesday that though the organization is hopeful the town will re-join the GBEDC, "we are concerned that the town's recent actions will foster unproductive competition within the region and may negatively affect the GBEDC's mission to promote economic development on a cooperative basis in every corner of the Greater Beloit region."

On Tuesday, the town submitted its petition to the Rock County Circuit Court, one of the first steps to the town incorporating into the Village of Riverside.

That same day, Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther announced city officials will not continue to discuss a potential boundary agreement with the township, since the Town of Beloit filed the petition before finalizing a deal with the city.

Luther said Wednesday the Town of Beloit's filing with the court includes a map with defined boundaries not established through any negotiating process.

From a legal standpoint, she said, such boundaries in official documents with the courts stymie any negotiating process until some resolution is reached regarding the status of the incorporation petition.

Haas disagrees, saying the town and city could still come together to reach a boundary agreement even after the petition has been filed.

Regarding the GBEDC, Haas said Thursday the town has not once been contacted by Andrew Janke, the city's economic development director, or any other member of the GBEDC regarding the town's decision to drop membership. He also alleges at the GBEDC's last Executive Committee meeting, Luther asked Janke to issue a statement opposing the town's incorporation. Since Janke is the executive director of the GBEDC, but also a full-time member of city staff, Haas calls the GBEDC's news release a conflict of interest and questionable.

"It would seem that the decision to release a statement on behalf of the GBEDC is politically motivated due to the timing and content," Haas said.

As a member of the Strategic Planning Committee for the GBEDC, Haas said there were few items geared toward the township, and the majority of Haas's contact with Janke has been email correspondence.

"As a result of this experience, I am not impressed with the GBEDC's 'collaboration or teamwork'," Haas said.

In the letter Haas sent to Janke dated Dec. 7, 2017, Haas stated that "moving forward, I am more than happy to be of any personal assistance to you or the organization as necessary. I am pleased at how well this organization has been able to assist in the economic vitality of the region, but the town finds that a partnership with the GBEDC is not mutually beneficial at this time."

Back in December, Haas said the town's decision to drop its membership from both organizations wasn't politically motivated. Town officials, he said, believe the town is not getting a return on investment through the chamber.

Haas said the town plans to strengthen ties with the Northeast Business Association (NEBA), a group of small business owners in the town and city. The hope is that NEBA will take on more functions similar to a chamber organization.

Janke said the GBEDC learned about the town's decision to withdraw from the organization via a news release and a letter indicating the town's official decision in December and was not given prior notice of the town's intent to withdraw.

"We are happy to review the direct services and benefits provided to the town and will gladly discuss the town's decision and welcome the town back into the organization for the economic benefit of the greater Beloit area," Janke said.

Haas said in a release Wednesday the town paid the GBEDC $1,020 annually. He said the town's decision doesn't affect the ability of property owners or businesses within the town to participate in the GBEDC. In fact, Haas encourages businesses to reach out to the GDEBC and said the town could reach out to the GDEBC in the future.

Anderson said the GBEDC will continue to promote economic development strategies throughout the Beloit area, including in the township.

Examples of the GBEDC's services to the town, he said, include: Advocating for and supporting the new Alliant Energy's West Riverside Energy Center that's currently under construction in the township; marketing of available buildings and sites in the Town of Beloit; conducting ongoing business retention visits to businesses throughout the region; and providing financial and staff resources to achieve "Certified Shovel Ready" status for available industrial sites located in the town.

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