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Our View: Economic summit should set goals, spark change

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Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes’ call for an economic development “summit” this Tuesday is an appropriate response to the ongoing recession. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be taken lightly by city, community and business leaders, as well as local residents. While the City of Auburn appears to be in better financial shape than neighboring Lincoln, Folsom and other municipalities considering deep cuts and layoffs, city officials realize that could change quickly. Sales tax revenues are down and will stay there for the foreseeable future. Business closures are on the rise. Jobs are being lost. Auburn urgently needs a comprehensive economic development plan and the human energy to make it real. Up to this point, however, the public has seen little urgency from city hall to jump-start the local economy. Let Tuesday afternoon’s summit be the spark for action, with the first order of business clarifying the role and responsibilities of the city Economic Development Commission. The commission reportedly has a lengthy list of duties, including promotion of an economic plan “based on the needs and views of the business and residential community.” The commission also is charged with creating jobs, assisting existing business, promoting Auburn as a destination point, promoting local shopping and encouraging “citizen participation in the affairs of city government.” If this is the true, where has this group been, what have they accomplished, and what is the plan to weather the economic storm? Other questions also should be answered, including: - What’s the status of the Streetscape project? The only apparent visible sign of work is a painted pedestrian crossing near the Gold Country Fairgrounds. What comes next and when? - Who owns the buildings that housed Coherent Inc. and United Foods, two major airport industrial-area employers that have moved out of the city? Is the city recruiting other businesses to take their place? What does that action plan look like and when might residents see some results? - Is the city committed to shopping Auburn first, and would their purchase orders and receipts for labor and supplies prove that to be true? Or is “Think Auburn First” for residents only? Residents should join local leaders at Tuesday’s summit, with ears open and voices to share. Residents are the ones working and shopping — or not shopping — in Auburn, and could provide some excellent feedback to the discussion. And if the 4 p.m. meeting time isn’t convenient for busy Auburnites, subsequent public sessions should be scheduled. Whatever the debate, Holmes would be wise to synthesize it down into understood, strategic goals with achievable actions. Priorities should be set. If the goal is to capitalize on the American River Canyon’s whitewater potential, then focus on it and develop an achievable public-private plan. If retail and industrial recruitment is the goal, build a team of scouts and create a sustainable program to market the city properly. Pick two to three big economic goals with the greatest potential for short- and long-term growth, and move quickly on plans to make them happen. Auburn needs traction, and it needs it now. While the current economy is an obstacle to growth, it also provides an opportunity to concentrate on things that really matter. Tuesday could be a giant leap — or another small step — in the economic recovery of Auburn.