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Columbia County Observer

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County Economic Development Committee deep sixes "higher-skill, higher-wage jobs" from its mission statement

Columbia County's Economic Development Committee - What have they accomplished?

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County's Economic Development Committee has been talking for a year. They are still trying to figure out what it is they are supposed to do.

Long time County Commissioner Ronald Williams in a thoughtful moment. During his 35 plus years on the Commission, economic development has gone nowhere.

In the summer of 2009, Columbia County economic development was thrown into turmoil by rookie District III Commissioner, Jody DuPree, who began the process to disassemble the independent Columbia County Industrial Development Authority, oust its widely known long time Director, Jim Poole, and replace him and the IDA with an Economic Development Department under County control. In December of 2010, the County came up with a timetable to eliminate the IDA as the County's lead Economic Development Agency.

At the end of 2010, with the writing on the wall, Deputy IDA Director, Gina Reynolds, began looking for a job. On January 6, 2011, Ms. Reynolds bid Columbia County and its Commissioners a tearful farewell.

For a year economic development in Columbia County was rudderless. IDA Director Poole hung on through the middle of 2011, but his job was now basically just ceremonial. Commissioner DuPree and the County's good ol' boys disrespected IDA Director Poole at every opportunity. The County succeeded with its real aim:  Eliminate the IDA as an independent agency – grab control of its money – micromanage economic development.

Economic Development Director Quillen shortly after being told that higher-paying jobs weren't on the Committee's agenda. Mr. Quillen has more bosses than any other county employee.

For half a year there was no Columbia County Economic Development Director other than District II Commissioner, Rusty DePratter, the owner of a local fence company and the DuPree appointee to chair the County's newly formed Economic Development Committee.

In December of 2011, Commissioner DuPree lost his Commission Chairmanship to District V Commissioner, Scarlet Frisina. Among her first acts were to remove Commissioner DePratter from the Economic Development Committee and appoint long time District I Commissioner, Ronald Williams, to be its chair.

On December 5, 2011, Jesse Quillen began work as Columbia County's Economic Development Director, having been lured away from a similar position in Mobile, Alabama.

March 7, 2012: "Higher-skill, higher-wage jobs" out the window

As Economic Development Director Quillen became familiar with Columbia County his primary task was to develop a plan of action for Columbia County economic development. That was the first item of discussion at Wednesday's Economic Development Committee meeting. Director Quillen did not get far without coming under fire.

Director Quillen makes a point about doing better.

Mr. Quillen proposed a straightforward common sense mission statement for economic development in Columbia County: To foster a strong local economy and vibrant community by promoting a favorable business environment to attract private capital investment and higher-skill, higher-wage jobs.

Mr. Quillen mentioned it didn't have to be that. Immediately he met resistance from long time Commissioner Williams.

Commissioner Williams said he didn't want Columbia County to be confused with Ocala, which he said only wants high skilled jobs. Commissioner Williams said he wants the common working man to be able to get a job.

The Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Mission Statement:  Improve the economic vitality of our community by increasing quality employment opportunities.

The Ocala/Marion County EDC Vision Statement:  Through further economic diversification and high-quality job creation Marion County will reach full employment by 2015.

Mr. Quillen, the new Economic Development Director, explained he was looking to strive to the next level of higher paying jobs. He said, "I think our goal should always be to try and do better.

Everybody had an opinion during the thirty plus minute discussion as the Committee batted around the mission statement of Columbia County economic development. The term "higher-paying jobs" appeared not to have much support.


The dismal economic development history of Columbia County is legendary.

Its successes have been highlighted by its monumental failures; a dismal school system; a historical illiteracy rate approaching 30%; legendary good ol' boy cronyism; and a homeless County Commission that always looked to do things on the cheap and may be the only county in Florida without its own municipal complex and meeting room.

After the 30 plus minute discussion, in which no one could agree on having "higher-paying jobs" as part of the mission of Columbia County economic development, Chairman Williams established a committee to help the county's Economic Development Director come up with something else. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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