CONCORD — A Bedford state representative says he has bipartisan support for legislation to clarify who is supposed to develop an economic development plan for the state, with measures to ensure the job gets done.
State Rep. John Cebrowski, R-Bedford, is proposing a bill that would assign the task to the Division of Economic Development, with a mandate that the plan be updated every two years.
The state's existing development plan, posted on the website of the Office of Energy and Planning, has not been updated since 2000. The Business and Industry Association, the statewide chamber of commerce, unveiled its own economic strategy for the state on Monday, citing a void that needed to be filled.
"This is a leadership issue. It comes from the corner office," said Cebrowski. "I remember sitting down with John Lynch a couple years ago and asking him eyeball to eyeball in a legislative meeting why we don't have an economic development plan and he wouldn't answer my question. He waffled around it and really didn't answer it at all."
Why hasn't the state produced a formal economic development strategy for more than 12 years?
"My own opinion is that implicit in planning is accountability," said Cebrowski. "If you don't have a plan you cannot be held accountable. If you have a plan, whatever the organization is, you can be held accountable to that plan."
At this point, Cebrowski's proposal is only a legislative service request, but he's confident it will be assigned a bill number and turned over to a House committee when lawmakers reconvene in January. He said he has four Democrats and five Republican representatives lined up as co-sponsors, with support from at least four senators who pledged to back the bill when it gets to the Senate.
"This is an opportunity to strengthen the health of the state's economy and improve employment opportunities, which are of primary concern to New Hampshire citizens," his proposal states, calling for a "continuing and comprehensive effort" to address changes in the state and national economy.
If the plan becomes law, the Division of Economic Development within the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) will be required to complete an economic growth strategy and associated action plan by Dec. 31, 2014, and submit the plan to the governor, the Senate president, Senate majority leader, Senate minority leader, the speaker of the House of Representatives, House majority leader and House minority leader.
Each year thereafter the division would have to file an annual report and an update of the plan "so that each annual report shall extend the time frame of the plan by one year, thereby ensuring that a two-year plan is always in effect," according to the proposed legislation.
"The Office of Energy and Planning does not have the expertise or the staff to do this," Cebrowski said. "They are not in the business of economic development. The people who should be doing this are in the Division of Economic Development."
A spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan said Cebrowski's proposal would create a new responsibility not currently assigned to any state agency, including the Office of Energy and Planning.
"The current law requires OEP to develop a broad state development plan covering a range of issues, including land use, transportation, recreation and natural resources, in cooperation with many other agencies and stakeholders," said Marc Goldberg.
An economic development plan, as proposed by Cebrowski, would have a narrower focus.
"The governor is open to ideas to strengthen the state's planning and economic development efforts," said Goldberg, "as long as appropriate resources are provided to support those efforts. She looks forward to reviewing any legislative proposal and working with all stakeholders as the measure moves through the legislative process."
Cebrowski said he has the support of DRED Commissioner Jeff Rose and interim Director of Economic Development Chris Way. "Our office is aware and appreciative of Rep. Cebrowski's efforts," said Lorna Colquhoun, communications and legislative director for the Division of Economic Development.
The Bedford state rep was the guest speaker at the November meeting of the N.H. Association of Regional Planning Commissions on Monday, where the audience was mostly supportive, he said.
Cebrowski believes a structured planning process will enable the state to compete more effectively with other states for economic investment and development.
"I've researched all 50 states," he said, "and 40 have some provision in statute that requires a regular economic development plan."firstname.lastname@example.org