Sandy Springs has been searching for an economic development planner after its top development official’s contract expired in June.
City officials said the $50,000 paid to former economic development manager Jahnee Prince was money well spent. Prince’s chief accomplishment was working with the city’s newly-formed Economic Development Advisory Committee and developing an economic plan for the city.
Her contract specified other jobs. Her duties included acting as a liaison between the city and business community, attracting and retaining businesses, providing programs to retain young professionals and overseeing the city’s business outreach efforts.
Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough said Prince stayed busy and fulfilled the terms of her contract. He said he was satisfied with her performance.
“The primary focus was essentially to start up the economic development arm of the city,” McDonough said. “Jahnee was the lead staff person who interacted with the Economic Development Committee. Both were done and done well.”
Prince declined to comment for this story.
The city introduced Prince with fanfare, issuing a press release in December that touted her credentials. She drafted the city’s economic development plan before her contract expired. Sandy Springs City Council reviewed the plan in August. The city made no formal announcements about her departure.
McDonough said the city is interviewing candidates who can implement the plan that Prince developed and he hopes to hire someone soon.
“Jahnee was hired for a certain job. She did the job. We were very pleased with the work,” McDonough said. “We’re looking for someone who has particular experience.”
The broad goals listed in the Sandy Springs plan include recruiting small and large businesses, retaining existing businesses and increasing occupancy rates in commercial buildings.
The plan recommends focusing on redevelopment of existing retail space.
Sandy Springs’ rivals have taken different approaches to the task of devising an economic development strategy.
Sandy Springs’ plan is 21 pages plus several pages of appendix information.
The city of Alpharetta in 2011 adopted a 55-page plan with several additions and appendixes crammed with data. The city spent a year producing it for a cost of $100,000, according to Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard.
He said the finer details contained in Alpharetta’s plan are important.
“Typically what you’ll find when you go through a process like this is what you think you know about your community … you tend to have a certain perspective on it,” Drinkard said. “What the data would reveal is the truth behind the perception so you may learn things about your community that you really didn’t know is the case.”
Dunwoody, which has a full-time director of economic development, created a plan that was short and direct.
Economic Development Director Michael Starling wrote the seven-page document outlining the city’s goals and strategies. The city adopted its plan in 2011.
An exact cost for Dunwoody’s economic plan development isn’t easy to determine. Like Prince, Starling is a contractor.
The city of Dunwoody budgeted $115,000 for the first year of Starling’s contract, including costs and salary. Starling said he spent 120 hours on the city’s economic development roadmap.
“It focuses on what we think are the three main objectives: retaining existing businesses, recruiting new companies – companies from outside the state – and redevelopment of our commercial activity areas,” Starling said.
Leaders in Sandy Springs said the city took the right approach, but one councilwoman thinks the plan needed more input from residents.
Sandy Springs Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny applauded the work of Prince and the economic development committee, but said she felt the plan was weighted toward commercial interests.
“They were designed as a real estate redevelopment group,” McEnerny said. “That is what is reflected in the economic development report. Are they a balanced group, representing neighborhood and citizens advocates? No, but they weren’t supposed to be.”
Councilman Chip Collins said he is pleased with the plan the city received.
“We absolutely were wise to invest money in starting an economic development program. The work product is positive and what we were looking for, and we’ve got a structure now to build on and I think it absolutely will bear fruit,” Collins said.
Councilman Gabriel Sterling said the council received what was expected from the contract.
“That was the biggest single work product she was given,” Sterling said.
“It’s better to go that route than hire a city worker for a full time job like that.”
Councilman John Paulson said Prince “did a good job” putting the plan together.
“I thought she did what we asked her to do… I didn’t think it was going to be a long-term [job] because she was more of a plan developer than an implementer,” Paulson said.