ELYRIA — The city’s search for a new economic development specialist went all the way to the Garden State.
The city’s new hire — James Graham, who is pegged with the responsibility of boosting city tax revenue and drumming up new businesses — comes from New Jersey, where he most recently served as president of the Warren County Regional Chamber of Commerce. He also has done similar work in Reno, Nev., and San Bernardino, Calif.
Mayor Holly Brinda introduced Graham during Monday’s City Council meeting. His official start date is Oct. 1. His first-year salary will be $69,000.
“He has already moved to Elyria, has already volunteered to attend some management meetings and I have been able to introduce him to others in the county that deal with economic development,” Brinda said. “I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to have someone standing in my office saying they want to start working on a plan.”
It’s been years since the city has had an employee solely dedicated to economic development. Brinda, who took office in January 2012, has been doing the lion’s share of the work of luring jobs to the city.
Graham said Monday he is happy to return to his chosen field of economic development.
“I consider it a privilege to be here,” he said. “I like to stay busy and I understand there is a lot to do here, but I believe that by working with the community and the existing businesses here we will create new businesses, increase investments, create new jobs and increase the tax base.”
Brinda said Graham’s first duties will include a downtown development corporation to attract long-term businesses and pop-up businesses and developing a Midway Mall Merchant’s Association. The city also has applied for $94,000 through the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency to conduct a market analysis that Graham will use to create a development plan for the city.
The city’s lack of a dedicated Economic Development Department was mentioned in the June performance audit conducted by state Auditor Dave Yost.
Where Elyria spends nothing specifically on economic development, peer cities spent, on average, $9 per resident, the audit said.
The audit recommended the city merge the Building and Community Development departments into one comprehensive Economic
Development Department focused on community revitalization, improvement and public safety. The consolidation would result in the need for fewer employees.
Brinda said reorganizing both departments allowed for Graham’s hire with no additional salary cost to the city. His salary will come from the Community Development Department budget, which lost two employees this year. The salaries for both were included in the budget for the full year of 2013, and their absence frees up money.