After eight years, Avon Lake Councilman at-large Dan Bucci leaves council this year the same way he entered: talking with residents about their needs. He is pictured here last Saturday with a resident discussing the city’s many assets.
(Press photo – Michele Murphy)
by Michele Murphy
Dan Bucci decided to run for council in Avon Lake in 2009. At the time, the United States was in the throes of an economic decline being likened to the Great Depression. The local Ford plant had just announced hundreds of layoffs and that meant city coffers would suffer.
While he knew businesses were not expanding or doing much hiring, he believed things would turn around. As he knocked on doors while campaigning, his beliefs were affirmed. As a result, economic development became the hallmark of his successful campaign strategy.
In a recent interview, he recalled telling voters, “I’m running because I am worried about our reliance on Ford.” News reports from 2009 indicated Ford’s employment taxes contributed a hefty 30 percent of the city’s revenue.
Bucci believed a more diverse employment tax base ensured services, such as safety, parks and street maintenance, could be maintained without having to turn to residents to shoulder an increase in taxes to support city operations.
Perhaps as much as anything else, Bucci was motivated to push economic development in Avon Lake, which he believed had become “complacent,” as he thought about what had happened to his hometown of Lorain as anchor industries — including an auto plant — had closed.
He pushed ahead with several initiatives. His first has also become the best known: the annual Wine Festival at Veterans Memorial Park. Originally intended to boost local wineries, now it includes area restaurants, caterers and food trucks. It is a volunteer-driven effort drawing thousands. He credits the ongoing success to Avon Lakers Charlie Sextella and Jen Dalman.
“They are the boots on the ground,” he stated.
As he continued to advance economic development, he kept asking himself and others, “How do we differentiate ourselves?” He also maintained whatever “it” was it “needed to be something easy to understand and easy to administer.” The answer was the Jobs Growth Incentives Program. Local businesses became eligible for rebate checks when their income taxes grew year over year as a result of new hiring or increasing hours for employees. The rebates were equal to 25 percent of increased payroll taxes. In its first year, 134 businesses shared just over $215,000. Last year, 118 businesses shared $49,000. According to Bucci, “The fact that we are seeing well over a hundred companies recognized each year demonstrates that companies continue to grow in Avon Lake.”
Bucci says he is particularly pleased some businesses actually return their checks to the city.
Next came creation of a Community Investment Corporation (CIC) whose principal purpose is to provide low-interest loans to small businesses that are already established or want to come to Avon Lake. It is a nonprofit run by an independent board. Their funds do not come from city taxes, but profits from the Wine Festival and a cell tower lease.
Last year, CIC ran a business plan competition in collaboration with ECDI. Six local businesses shared awards of $35,000 (see related story Great Lakes Pet Food Co. pg. -)
In response to an announcement about the closing of the NRG-owned power plant, Bucci created the West End Development Commission to “think about what to do with the plant and adjacent property.”
“We wanted to have a structure and vision so that if it became available, we would know how to proceed,” he said.
The commission was comprised of residents and business owners as well as council members, although Bucci maintains, “We wanted it to be a member-driven process.” They had even developed a plan for a mixed-use development when NRG reversed its position on closing, thus stalling the commission’s work.
As he considers the state of economic development in Avon Lake, Bucci says he believes “getting all these ducks in a row is good progress.” He adds, “I would like residents to know we are well situated if we use all the tools we have and will be successful, but it might not be overnight and may not be a flashy something.”
“We don’t need a game changer,” Bucci claims. “Home runs are great, but we need singles and doubles.” He says that could include the opening of a light manufacturing business employing 30-40 people, local businesses adding jobs and more activity in the center of town such as the proposed Goddard School.
Of the Job Growth Incentive Program it would be interesting to know the relative size of those businesses as well as their longevity. — pc
CIC is a nonprofit board independent of whom? –pc
ECDI is what?
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