Council gives Lovell Inc. the go-ahead

The Lovell Town Council gave Lovell Inc. interim director Dave Reetz the green light Tuesday night to continue to rebuild the organization, approving the release of funds contained in the current 2015-16 town biennial budget but not made available until now, except for an allocation to perform an audit of the organization’s financial records.

Reetz presented to the council the report on Lovell Inc. and economic development in general that he has been working on for more than three months after being retained by the Lovell Inc. board of directors upon the announcement by former director Sue Taylor that she was taking a job in Montana.

In introducing the report, Reetz said he has found a high level of interest in continuing economic development activities in the community.

“I’ve been here three months now, and I’ve interviewed as many people as I could,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous delight to serve you and Lovell Inc. People have a love of the community and the quality of life here. There’s a bright future and a core of people willing to step up, who saw the value of economic development.

“Some people remember a time when Lovell was more vibrant, but I’ve tried to lay out a plan to make that happen again.”

Reetz was optimistic in his report.

“As people who have visited with me in the past few months know, I have a great love for Lovell and its people,” Reetz wrote in his report introduction. “This is a town with personality and genuine goodness, and I believe authentic people deserve a personal and authentic study.

“I believe Lovell is on the brink of great things. Yes, I know there are past disappointments, bumps and scratches like any other community, but there is truly a basic wholesomeness, sensibility, mutual respect and abundance of well-meaning people running like a thread throughout the community.”

Continuing in the preface, Reetz penned, “As I write this report my first thoughts are I am very impressed with the vitality and enthusiastic love of community that I have witnessed. The people of this community think highly of their community and truly want a good future. Quality of life is highly prized, and the citizens are very proud of the area’s beauty, their schools, medical care and their children.”

Reetz cited the 2015 Big Horn County Economic Development Plan to report significant retail leakage out of the area, which he said equates to opportunities for recruitment. He noted a number of past Lovell Inc. accomplishments including receiving $900,000 in grants and other revenues, the establishment of the Third Street Incubator, demolition of the old hospital on 10th Street and a grant to improve the town’s free camper park.

“It was stated in one of my interviews that Lovell Inc. served as an inspiration for the business to expand and it was affirming for the owner to know the community had put Lovell Inc. in place to encourage business development,” Reetz wrote.

As for finances, Reetz noted that the organization’s treasury only contains enough operating funds to pay the building utility payments for November, noting that the Directors and Officers Liability Insurance premium of approximately $1,000 is due soon.

He noted that the town has budgeted approximately $20,000 for Lovell Inc. for 2015-16, but Lovell Inc. has “prudently been reluctant” to request a drawdown of the funds until a firm direction for the organization could be ascertained and the books audited. He noted the recent good news that the IRS had recently decided to abate penalties for failing to file timely reporting forms for two years.

Reetz said an audit of three years of financial records being conducted by Cody CPA James Reilly is just about finished, and he quoted Reilly as saying the audit “looks good” and that he has found “no problems” with Lovell Inc.’s financial records.

Options for future

The Reetz report contained three options for the future of Lovell Inc.: dissolve Lovell Inc., continue Lovell Inc. in the same existing format or continue Lovell Inc. but in a new format.

Reetz said he and the board don’t recommend the first option because the organization has already done good work and is established in the community. The second option cannot be currently funded, which necessitated Taylor’s departure, but Reetz advocated for the third option: a new, streamlined format a shift in emphasis from community development to economic development.

“I propose a different format that we followed in other towns,” Reetz said Tuesday. “We did some community development, but it was for the benefit of economic development.”

The report lists key economic strategies as business retention, business expansion, entrepreneurial development, new business recruitment, infrastructure development for economic development, housing projects and business support services. Key results to follow would be job creation, business creation, stronger businesses, diversification of the business base and increased capital investment by the private sector.

Reetz said economic development can be measured easier than community development, and he said the organization should be providing regular accountability reports to the town government and community.

Other key recommendations in the Reetz report are strengthening the organization’s governing structure, forging stronger partnerships with the town government and chamber of commerce, creating a high performance and prudently funded organization and focusing on certain priorities.

Governing structure: Reetz recommended a somewhat larger board with rotating, staggered terms to minimize burnout and increase effectiveness.

Partnerships: Reetz said he is encouraged by the cooperation that already exists among Lovell Inc., the chamber and the town, and he recommended regular meetings of the leadership from the three groups and increased staff development for the executive staff of each.

High performance, prudently funded organization: Reetz said it is best for Lovell Inc. to live within its means for now, then, as it proves itself, generate increased financial support. He presented three potential budgets to the council: one through the end of the fiscal year in June, one for the ensuing fiscal year with VISTA funding in place and one for the next fiscal year without VISTA funding.

Reetz believes a part-time director can be hired for $2,000 a month and said he can train the right person, noting, “I’m willing to put the time in.” He would like to see the position advertised before December so that a person home for the holidays might see the opportunity and apply.

“I would be willing to recruit and train the new executive director in order to help establish a framework for success I believe is necessary for the organization to achieve its objectives,” Reetz wrote in the report. “Yes, it will take a unique person to fill such a role, but I am convinced there are people who now live in the Lovell area or who would want to return to Lovell to fulfill such an important and exciting role for the community.”

Focus on the priorities: Reetz said priorities of the revamped organization should include filling the incubator building, promoting senior housing, putting a professional entrepreneur development program into effect, developing an inventory of all available vacant buildings and land, revitalizing Main Street, developing a strong Operation Back Home effort to lure natives back to the community, getting on the radar of the Wyoming Business Council, developing local task forces, and building a strong and healthy tourism industry in Lovell.

Addressing some of the priorities, Reetz said he has already taken on several prospective entrepreneurs to help them, even with his limited time, and he said Lovell Inc. must be prepared to assist people who wish to start a business.

He said an Operation Back Home effort should succeed well in Lovell, whose natives had “a tremendous pride in their hometown, more than most towns.” He also said Lovell Inc. should work closely with the Business Council to be in the loop for recruiting businesses. He said he is already working with one prospect provided by the Business Council and said Lovell Inc. needs to develop a “gangbuster recruiting package.”

Some people may downplay tourism as viable economic development, but Reetz said tourism is the second largest sector of the Wyoming economy, brings outside money in and can be a way of drawing people to the community to relocate a business.

Reetz asked the council for their blessing and to release the budgeted funds to keep the organization running through the end of the fiscal year.

“We’re ready to move ahead if you are,” he said. “We’re requesting a further drawdown on the town’s (budgeted) money. I believe by spring, if you allow us the opportunity, you’ll see some really significant things.”

Council discussion

During the discussion that followed Reetz’s presentation, Councilman Scott Allred said option number one, dissolving the organization, is not one he wants, and he said maintaining the current structure isn’t a solution. He asked if the third option would begin immediately.

“The time is now,” Reetz said. “We’re already starting to ramp up activity. It’s going to be very rewarding when you start to see it happening.”

He also noted that the directors and officers insurance premium is due shortly. As for hiring a director, Reetz asked, “If we don’t have money in the treasury, who would want to work for us?”

Allred said he agrees with the emphasis on tourism, noting that lodging tax revenues were up 30 percent this year. He also agreed with Reetz’s emphasis on economic, rather than community, development, noting that, if primary jobs are created, secondary jobs will follow.

He asked whether Lovell has the workers to fill primary jobs, and Reetz said workforce training is highly effective, and people will move in to fill primary jobs, as well.

“We’d like to proceed with that budget,” Reetz said, and Councilman Brian Dickson stepped forward and handed Reetz $20 as the first of many contributions from the community. Continued Dickson, “The money is in the budget. Go spend it. Move forward with option three.”

Reetz asked if Lovell Inc. could submit an invoice for the budgeted funds, and the council members nodded their assent.

By David Peck