After focusing its efforts on retaining and helping local businesses, the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority is shifting some focus.
TCEDA Executive Director Larry Cope told the Tuolumne County
Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the agency plans to focus more energy on attracting new businesses and fostering innovation in the county. Cope discussed the new TCEDA direction during a presentation on the authority’s upcoming budget and working plan.
The authority’s proposed $342,000 budget for 2014 includes an estimated $257,697 funding request from the county. The agency gets most of its revenue from the county and city of Sonora to promote, encourage and strengthen business in the county.
The five top expenses in the budget are $232,600 for salaries and benefits for Cope and a staff member, $25,000 for professional services, $22,500 for marketing, $16,000 for rents and leases, and $16,000 for training.
Most of the work since its formation in 2008 has been to find and meet the needs of existing businesses as well as work to fill empty space — largely retail — in the county.
“For the longest time,” Cope said the agency has been “trying to get basically the bedrock as solid as we could” and has “pretty much been able to do what we can with the retention and expansion and also the refilling of the retail locations.”
The expanded focus of the organization will include fostering innovative business ideas locally. Cope said TCEDA is studying how to breed innovation and seek out what he called “makers” in the community who have new business ideas.
Cope pointed to existing ideas that could possibly be brought to Tuolumne County, including an “innovation lab” that would serve as a “working hub” for new entrepreneurs. He said he’s been studying the Sacramento-based Hacker Lab, which serves as a modern spin on the traditional business incubator idea by offering space for entrepreneurs and business people to meet, share ideas and test new business models.
“We have a fair amount of innovators and makers in Tuolumne County,” Cope said. “There’s an opportunity to actually tap into what we already have here and grow those types of businesses.”
He also said TCEDA is also looking to launch a local venture capital fund while ramping up a campaign to attract business from Northern California’ urban centers. The idea is to craft a strategy that will fit Tuolumne County’s unique needs.
“Meld those (ideas) into what will truly work in Tuolumne County,” Cope said.
In other news, supervisors:
• Swore in new Tuolumne County Counsel Sarah Carrillo. The board chose Carrillo, who has worked as a deputy counsel in the office for eight years, after a lengthy search process to replace retired County Counsel Gregory Oliver.
• Unanimously voted to send a letter to Caltrans supporting a proposal by the Chicken Ranch Me-Wuk Indian tribe to build a new road for better access to the tribe’s Highway 108 casino. The road would intersect with Highway 108/49 across from Mackey Ranch Road, to the west of Chicken Ranch Road.
Visitors of the casino, bingo hall and entertainment venue now access the site via Chicken Ranch Road. County and casino representatives have said the new route would ease traffic on the county-maintained road. The casino would cover costs of any related improvements to Highway 108, according to the proposal.
• Recognized District Attorney Michael Knowles for 30 years of employment with the county.
• Voted to request proposals from private businesses or individuals looking to lease space at the Columbia Airport to build a hangar facility.
• Approved changes to the county ordinance code that clarify the process of receiving an affordable housing waiver for county service impact fees.