1-stop economic shopping offered

Local agencies combine forces to create clearinghouse, referral source

Posted: Friday, September 19, 2003

Good advice about such things as launching a new business, how to accommodate more customers, even how to boost community development plans and market resources can be found through several local, state and federal agencies with offices on the Kenai Peninsula.

But confusion can reign when residents try to determine exactly which agency would best serve their needs.

With that in mind, the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District and five other agencies met Sept. 9 to create the Peninsula Economic Council, a kind of clearinghouse for information and a referral service that members hope will make finding help a lot easier for prospective clients, said Randy Daly, interim manager of the KPEDD, in an interview Monday.

Joining the KPEDD in the effort are the Kenai Peninsula Borough Community and Economic Development Division, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Devel-opment Office, the USDA's Resource Conservation and Development District office, the Small Business Development Center, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council.

All the agencies perform similar functions, sometimes leaving people unclear about where to turn, Daly said.

"Our mission is to deal with the concerns forwarded to us because there are so many organizations doing similar things. We will share resources and collaborate on projects. We'll act as a resource guide ... and refer people to the correct individual and decrease frustration," Daly said.

Michelle Hoffman, USDA rural development manager, said the groups want to demonstrate to peninsula residents that they can and do work together to assist the community.

"The only way we can do that is by communicating with one another," Hoffman said. "We want to know, as agencies, what each other is doing and can do."

The plan is to meet on a regular basis the next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 15 to discuss projects and how best to provide help to the communities the various agencies serve, she said. For instance, in order to receive some types of federal assistance, communities must have community plans. The USDA can provide assistance in preparing such plans, she said.

Bonnie Golden, grants manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, is the borough's representative. Like the others, Golden said she sees the council as an association of government and nonprofit agencies that have gotten together to coordinate their efforts and exchange ideas and information:

"I'm looking forward to working with the other groups," she said. "This will preclude us from duplicating services and it will make for better use of the resources we have."

Golden said her function will be mostly advisory. Because her job entails finding grants for the borough, she will be able to share information about granting agencies and about opportunities as they become available, she said.

Also representing their agencies at last week's first Peninsula Economic Council meeting were Mike Odegard of the Resource Conservation and Development office, Mark Gregory of the Small Business Development Center, Audrey Walaszek, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, and Jack Brown with the Kenai Peninsula Borough Community and Economic Development Division.

As these local, state and federal agencies work to find more efficient ways to serve the public, the city of Kenai launched a program in August focusing on development in Kenai, hiring Casey Reynolds as its economic development director. He will spearhead a project to develop a long-term Strategic Economic Development Plan for the city, targeting industries that might thrive in Kenai.

Reynolds said Thursday he has been invited to participate in the next meeting of the council.

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