In August, the county invited the public to participate in the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), a program produced by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), which is a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The U.S. government uses the CEDS as a mechanism to award funding to communities to improve their overall economies.
The county also put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to have an experienced consultant help put the report together for the EDA, and they selected Chabin Concepts, which is based in Chico. I talked with the head consultant for this project and principal of Chabin Concepts, about the Amador County CEDS now that it’s ready for approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Doll moved to Chico in 1986 from Detroit and found work the next year in the Stanislaus County business development department. After she worked there for a couple of years, she said, “I kind of fell into this line of work.” One day in 1989 she met Audrey Taylor, who was building the new economic development consultancy firm Chabin Concepts. “I met Audrey through a common friend,” Doll explained. “She had a position opening, I joined her, and the rest is history.
Doll said that Chabin Concepts has many clients around the country, and especially in northern California. “We have done quite a few CEDS with the EDA throughout the years, probably dozens of them,” she said. “For example, in San Joaquin County and Merced County, we have done theirs for quite a few years and do their annual updates. I think we have a pretty good reputation throughout the state.”
Once the Amador County Board of Supervisors hired Chabin Concepts, Doll needed a local expert, and her choice was easy. “My partner was Fawn McLaughlin in Mokulemne Hill, so she was very familiar with Amador County.” McLaughlin’s firm FJMcLaughlin and Associates is a strategic partner with Chabin Concepts, and in the past, McLaughlin has chaired the Calaveras County Planning Commission
“Because of COVID, we couldn’t do the typical go on-site for a number of days to really get feet on the ground and see and view the communities,” Doll said. “But Fawn is very familiar with Amador County, so that was very fortunate for us. She did make a couple of trips over there.”
A CEDS Primer
As the primary consultant on the project, Doll acted as a guide for the county to navigate through the CEDS maze. “Because we’re familiar with EDA wants to see in the CEDS, there are certain requirements for presenting the overall economic situation, trends, demographics and population, things like that,” she noted.
Part of that guidance role was to help the community identify the goals and projects they wanted to include in the CEDS. Once that was done, Doll said, she worked with the county to “make sure that all the pieces and parts that EDA looks for in the CEDS were in place and would be acceptable to them.”
One big piece of the CEDS report to the EDA is the technical report. This report discusses the current state of Amador County, including:
- Job creation
- Employment and the state of the workforce
- Different development opportunities in different areas of the county
- The status of some of the county’s physical infrastructure
What’s more, Doll said, there is a new section that the EDA has added to its CEDS requirements recently that entails addressing threats to resilience. These threats include wildfires and other natural disasters, water supply, drought, as well as federal and state regulatory issues. The goal of this section is for the county and its communities to show not only that they have identified these programs, but also that they have plans in place to mitigate and/or respond to these issues.
She added there is another powerful benefit to creating a CEDS plan: financial support from the federal government. “Typically, a CEDS is prepared for the funding opportunities, and there are specific designated economic development administrative districts throughout the United States,” Doll said. “I think there are four in California, which is not a lot. There are some states where every county is part of the district. Most communities have some sort of an economic development strategy or plan, they don’t all go through EDA.
“What CEDS does, aside from being an economic development plan for the community, is that it makes the projects that are listed within the CEDS eligible for funding from EDA. It’s not automatic, but the fact that they are listed in there is the first step for going after the funding from EDA.”
After the county hired Chabin Concepts, they formed a CEDS committee to work with Chabin and work on the plan. During the process, Doll performed about 40 telephone stakeholders throughout the county. She also worked with the online engagement platform Social Pinpoint to create feedback forms and a map with identified development areas so people could comment on them.
She noted that since the website launched on August 5, 190 people responded to the surveys and 80 people commented on the maps. “That’s all presented in the CEDS document,” Doll added. The CEDS document was reviewed and approved by the CEDS committee and has been forwarded to the Board of Supervisors for their final approval.
That approval may come at the next scheduled Board meeting on January 5, and Doll will make a brief presentation to the Board when it takes up the matter. Once the Board accepts the report, Doll said, “they will issue a resolution and it will be submitted to the EDA. Within 30 days, EDA will send a letter accepting it or telling the county what changes need to be made.”
When the plan is adopted by the EDA, the county’s work will just be getting started. “There are a lot of action items in there, which is kind of the whole intent is really develop a plan to move things forward,” Doll said. A partial list of action items includes:
- Having communities become certified as fire safe
- How to improve economic development and job creation
- Retaining and upgrading talent
- Expanding workforce skills and training
- Expanding K-12 and higher educational opportunities
- Improving business climate and competitiveness
- Small business development
- Learning how business-friendly communities are
- Improve physical infrastructure
- Identify threats to the county and its communities
Doll summed up this list with what perhaps is an understatement: “We covered the gamut, really.”
One of the first things the county CEDS committee will do upon plan approval, Doll said, was to decide where to start, who will be involved, and who will lead those priority action items.
She added that with 16 high-level action items and many steps for each item, Chabin Concepts has also included a 30-, 60-, and 90-day launch plan for the city. “We list half a dozen things they should do in the first 30 days,” Doll noted. “Hopefully by the time we’ve gotten to 90 days, people are in the swing of things and different committees and lead organizations are set up and on their way.”
Doll emphasized that the county is not in it alone. Each community has some projects to do, and other organizations like the Amador County Chamber of Commerce will also be involved. And even more volunteers will be needed to turn the CEDS plan into reality.
“Because the county is rural, small, and is just restarting their economic development program, it’s going to take a lot of folks besides the county and cities,” she said. “It will also take volunteers that will have to be depended upon to move some of these action items forward.”
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