County commissioners this month will begin interviewing economic development director candidates and could have someone in the position as early as the end of the year, Commissioner Joe Giusti said.
This week, the Galveston County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the second phase with executive search firm Next Move Group to assist in hiring a new director.
The court hired the New Orleans-based search firm in July to find a new director after the former economic development director CB “Bix” Rathburn resigned in June.
The search was split in three phases at a total price tag of $27,000: $9,000 for interview in local business and government leaders to build a set of goals for the new director; $9,000 to identify and vet candidates; and a final $9,000 when the employee is hired, company CEO Chad Chancellor said.
In interviews with city economic development directors and city staff in the county, many said they were looking for a county position that would help identify prospects, Chancellor told commissioners.
“The idea is this person needs to generate the activity and work hand-in-hand with whichever community has the site or building,” Chancellor said.
The firm also identified some measurable goals for the new director, which weren’t in place as clearly when the county hired Rathburn as the economic director in 2015, Giusti said.
Those include helping deliver 100 jobs to the county in the first year and 1,000 jobs in three years, either through new business or expansion, Chancellor said Monday.
Local economic developers also wanted the new director to be a team player, Chancellor said. Those municipal directors wanted a person to identify leads, but wanted to work with the clients on sealing the deal because that usually includes local tax incentives, he said.
“The thinking is basically it’s a position that can be extremely successful, but you have to be able to monitor it and see if it’s actually bringing jobs,” Giusti said.
In 2015, the county paid an annual salary of $130,000 for the economic development director, not including additional expenses for the position, according to the county.
In an August commissioners court workshop, Chancellor proposed an annual budget for the economic development office of about $300,000, including travel and meeting expenses for conferences and meetings, prospect-finding services and an assistant.
But the director salary probably did not need to be as high as it had originally been, he said. He estimated between $95,000 and $110,000 for the position.
“You have tremendous benefits at the county so we think that’s attractive,” Chancellor said.
“We think it’s a great place to live and frankly so many economic developers are dying to come to a place that has this kind of infrastructure and opportunity so we think you can get a high-level person without paying as much possibly as you’ve been paying.”
Commissioners had initially been uncertain whether to fill the position after Rathburn resigned, Giusti said. They determined the position could benefit the county if the director was able to establish leads, however, he said.
“Would the jobs come anyway? Maybe,” Giusti said.
But establishing contacts and leads within some of the area’s choice industries increases the likelihood of bringing those jobs to the area, Giusti said.
Galveston County’s next economic development director will likely target industries such as maritime, petrochemical and technology-related firms, Commissioner Ken Clark said.
“As far as the county is concerned, whether it’s in Galveston or Friendswood or Kemah doesn’t matter a lot to us as long as it’s in the county,” Clark said.
Those industries have promise in many of the county’s cities where infrastructure and potential for workforce already exists, Clark said.