As part of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan Update, the Puyallup Planning Commission has unanimously endorsed the drafting of a new economic development element to be part of the plan.
At the Aug. 27 study session, development services staff presented to city council an update on the process and much of the discussion revolved around how the city should proceed in drafting an economic development element.
Development Services Director Tom Utterback recommended looking at the drafting of the element as "a staff-driven effort part of a two-year collaborative process" with council, city staff and the chamber of commerce.
A second option to consider would be a consultant-produced strategic plan. But Utterback told council that to hire a consultant to do the work would cost the city in excess of $100,000.
"With the cost of hiring a consultant, we could hire an economic development director so I'm not overly fond of that option," Council member Tom Swanson said.
Council member Steve Vermillion was the first to ask development services staff if hiring what he called an economic analyst would help the city in defining an economic element.
Staff replied it certainly wouldn't hurt.
"My biggest concern is I don't want to see the downtown die out," Vermillion said. "That should be our hub of the economy. South Hill is growing. And that is good for South Hill and Pierce County but it's too easy for downtown businesses to decide to move to South Hill. It would behoove us to have an economic analyst on board."
Vermillion added that he hopes City Manager Bill McDonald is listening.
Mayor Rick Hansen echoed Vermillion's comments.
"I'm behind Vermillion that our city manager hears that statement," Hansen said. "I think it's time to hire a new economic development director. There is an opportunity still here to make good decisions based on someone who is involved with economic development 24 hours a day."
Council member John Knutsen was hesitant to the idea. He said the development services staff fills the role adequately.
"I think with the resources we have, I would not be in support of hiring a $70,000 to $80,000 economic development director to replace what appears to be going well," Knutsen said.
Swanson said while development services does well in attracting a big employer to the city every one to three years, what is not done well is helping existing businesses hire new employees.
"An economic development director would work well in connecting to the chamber and business community and back to city council," Swanson said.
Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.