Tuesday, September 21, 2010

FIRED BUT NOW FIRED UP! John Cottingham Pushes for County Economic Development Council

Marilyn and John Cottingham

Last week, Boise County Commissioners decided
to give Planning and Zoning Commissioner John
Cottingham the boot, by simply not opting to re-appoint him to the Commission. A County commissioner, who prefers not to be named, commented that there were too many representatives for Garden Valley on the P&Z Commission. The commissioner’s suggestion that perhaps Cottingham’s passionate nature was sometimes hard to get around may have offered a convenient out for the opt.

After four years of dedicated and yes, passionate, volunteer work for the County, Cottingham has decided to go forward as planned, if not exactly as foreseen. “I’d like to lead the effort to do job creation in Boise County,” he says, “The Idaho Department of Labor reports that over 250 people in the county who want work can’t find work and that’s not counting the amount of people who have given up looking, perhaps another 250.”

The newly released public servant says he joined the Commission because he didn’t want developers to Californicate the county. “I found I do get really passionate...this business of developers not contributing to the school...I worked a long time with Craig Woolford and all three Superintendents. Jon Bart, who is a Democrat and I (I’m a Republican to the left of...) approach things differently—he and I worked on the school thing and got that done.

“Then when the (County) Board was all new, they did some good strategic planning; you’d find, over the years, the Board would violate the policies. My thought is, until you change them, follow them. I climbed up one side of them and down the other to get them to follow those policies; there was seldom change. I knew I was making them uncomfortable. That clearly got me fired. If I could do it all over, I would do it again! But I don’t hold it against them.”

Cottingham would like to see the CuMo project happen, because of the 500 jobs it would bring to the County. He knows CuMo will need certain skill sets and he would like to establish an adult education program in Garden Valley School and have CuMo contribute. “It would be far better for them to put in adult education—it benefits them and us.”

CuMo reps have made it clear this is what they do when they come into a community. Although the mine project will take years to begin, once they decide to go ahead and have government permission, CuMo would begin the community adult education early enough to be sure they have the skilled help they will need.

“A friend of mine would like to put in a technology management school here,” says Cottingham. “He’s willing to promote internships at the school, so he can help students decide on careers. We need to be able to provide education for young people and adults.”

Marilyn Cottingham interjected, “Lots of people don’t understand; they feel the mine will destroy the environment. If CuMo is going to be here, they need to get information to the public.”

“That is what we addressed in the P&Z Commission,” answers Cottingham. “I used to go through the same process at Bechtel Power. I developed new businesses for them, for years. There is a litany of ‘Don’t Dos’. Don’t contaminate with noise, don’t contaminate the water... the land, don’t ruin the roads. CuMo management knows agencies will climb all over them. The P&Z made sure the agencies knew all they needed! When you go, you have to put the land back the way it was and not impact anything. They can create jobs, pay us money, etc., but they have to do a good analysis to know what it will cost them to not leave a footprint.”

“When John was on P&Z,” Marilyn Cottingham says, “We met a couple who remembered him from a situation and said they were so pleased John had helped find a solution where everyone benefitted.”

Cottingham emphasizes that he wants to be instrumental in creating an Economic Development Council and in finding opportunities and helping opportunity development—to promote people with jobs. “Each board member has got pet projects to benefit the community where they live--Idaho City, Horseshoe Bend...,” he says. “I’d like to see this council establish a ‘virtual academy’-- get in a partnership with BSU, who has already formed a partnership with Boise-- to create a business incubator, supported by grants...a structure to help fledgling businesses.

“Here is the old school, with water, buildings and sewer—just waiting. This will provide people with education and infrastructure. I watch businesses start and fail every year. People create these in their homes, when they could all have an honest-to-God office. There are tons of uses for these internet-based incubators.”

The idea is to get funding—grant money—and provide real accounting and technological support. If it is done in Garden Valley, it can be a model for Horseshoe Bend and Idaho City. They don’t necessarily need a facility like the old school. Cottingham thinks it should be relatively easy. “You’d need teachers. GV School District has some that could help with basic bookkeeping.”

Cottingham believes the Commission and the Board can encourage job-producing projects by concentrating economic development efforts in areas that will help to replace lost timber, grazing and mining activities. “I know that within the County, there is interest in each commissioner’s heart to build businesses in their community, but there has been no overt effort. We need a County council that can help each of the communities provide a single structure, with instructors or professionals. It would be much better to provide help for everyone to use.

“Another concern is for the Board to publicize the hell out of the Economic Council—on blogs, in the paper—so there is no question to an employer that the County is in favor of creating jobs.”

The County Board of Commissioners and Planning and Zoning Commissioners will have a joint meeting in November. Cottingham would like his Job Creation Discussion Guide to be put on the agenda, by P&Z. He says, “If it’s not on the agenda, I’ll be forced to ask the Board to put me on the agenda for their board meeting. Nothing wrong with that, but I’d rather have the P&Z Commissioners behind this. They’re into helping people start businesses and I just want to be sure to get it right.”


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