Weber County economic development head out as officials rework approach

Wednesday , January 17, 2018 - 5:00 AM7 comments

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

This story was updated at 3:25 p.m. Wednesday to include comments from Douglas Larsen.

OGDEN — The head of Weber County’s economic development team is out as county commissioners rework their approach to spurring business growth and job creation here, an increasing focus for the officials.

Weber County commissioners on Tuesday accepted a severance agreement with Douglas Larsen, who officially stepped down as director of the Weber Economic Development Partnership (WEDP) on Jan. 11 after five-and-a-half years in the post. He had worked 21 years in all for the county in various positions, first in the early 1990s and then from 1999 until his departure last week.

Commissioners didn’t delve into specifics of Larsen’s departure, as it was a personnel issue, but they noted plans to adjust how they approach economic development and, more generally, how the county is run.

“We’re holding (employees) to a higher and higher standard,” said Commissioner Jim Harvey, who took over oversight duties of the EDP last November from Commissioner Kerry Gibson. One of his aims, Harvey said, is running county government more like a business.

Larsen responded by email Wednesday, saying his decision to resign was rooted in differing perspectives toward economic development.

“A number of the end objectives are likely the same, but the path upon which we get there is different. We lack synergy and alignment,” Larsen said of his reasons for moving on. “I trust the Commission will acknowledge that I laid the foundation and developed the primary outline or structure for the plan they are now evolving.”

Larsen spoke of how much he’d enjoyed his work.

“Business is often a game of risk and chance, but the underlying energy and sense of purpose of business leaders and entrepreneurs is magic,” Larsen said. “The business community in Weber County, Northern Utah and our entire state is leading, and we must always appreciate the risk industry takes, the significant investment and the jobs provided.”

Commissioner James Ebert said county officials are restructuring economic development efforts — a priority for him. The revamped efforts “will be more progressive, all data-driven, and we’ll have very specific goals we’re looking for,” he said.

> Weber County leaders aim for growth, development by fostering culture, arts

Even so, news of Larsen’s departure prompted consternation from another Weber County leader, North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor. Taylor, like other municipal leaders in the area, dealt with Larsen mainly in the former county official’s capacity managing transportation funding meant for road projects around the county.

“I have not heard one city say nothing but the most positive comments about Doug,” Taylor said.

County commissioners’ moves to contract with private consultants to aid with economic development initiatives may have scaled back Larsen’s workload, Taylor suspects, factoring in his departure. He questioned the value of those consultants’ efforts.

> Weber County spends $456K on public relations, economic development contracts

“They seem to be doing nothing but positive PR for the commissioners and the county,” he said, calling the turn of events “very frustrating.”

A ‘VERY AGGRESSIVE’ PLAN

Since last October, long before Larsen’s departure, Harvey and other county officials have been redoubling outreach efforts in Weber County to better acquaint themselves with the businesses and business leaders here.

County officials want the existing cadre of businesses to stay and grow, Harvey said. The efforts, he continued, aim at “making sure they know they have the county’s support.”

Thanks to the help of consultants, county officials now have solid data on Weber County’s business sector and climate to help them focus their efforts on growth, Harvey said. The numbers, to be revealed in more detail in the near term, identify strengths of the local job force and pinpoint possible areas of growth, among other things.

The efforts have already paid off, helping convince Parker Hannifin Corp. to expand its operations here, Harvey said. The firm announced Weber County expansion plans last week.

Parker Hannifin bringing 77 new jobs to Ogden

It’s too early to tell if county leaders will replace Larsen at the WEDP, Harvey said. The WEDP serves as a point of contact for information about the county for business operators looking to expand or relocate here. It also provides information on available space for site selectors and potential government incentives.

Meanwhile, two other WEDP staffers will likely oversee department functions between them, said Sarah Swan, the county’s human resources director.

Ebert said one of the questions for county officials as business development efforts evolve will be how they can help “energize” the seeming focus of the free market and identify barriers to doing business here.

“We’re ramping up for a very aggressive economic development plan with specific goals and a specific direction — for what we believe the county is growing into and becoming,” he said.

Officials said late last year that the varied consultants hired by the county aim to put together a focused economic development campaign sometime in early 2018. Commissioners last year awarded the Dicio Group of Salt Lake City a one-year $94,500 contract for public relations and more and awarded PGCC Strategies of Bountiful a $100,000 contract for economic development services.

County contracts dating back three years for public relations services and economic development initiatives total more than $456,000.

The severance package with Larsen gives him three months pay and benefits. It had been in the works at least three weeks, according to the accord. Larsen also worked as an appraiser, deputy assessor, election official and more while employed by the county.

Reporter Cathy McKitrick contributed to this story.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/TimVandenackReporter.

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