Gahanna City Council is focusing heavily on ways to improve economic development.

Gahanna City Council is focusing heavily on ways to improve economic development.

Council member Brian Larick asked development director Anthony Jones on Feb. 10 how the city could be successful in retaining businesses and attracting others with the highest positive return.

He also asked how to best fund activities the city needs.

Jones pointed to the importance of existing staff members, including economic development manager Emanuel Torres, and of filling the position of deputy development director. He said a second round of interviews was scheduled for Feb. 14 for the vacant position.

Jones said he has received positive feedback from companies about Gahanna bringing pertinent players to the table when the city is being considered as a home for businesses.

"They like bringing everyone to the table at one time," he said. "It's a quick yes to a slow no. We're trying to provide the friendliest environment for businesses to invest in."

Jones said the department is working to improve the process time.

"A goal is to allow companies to make decisions faster," he said.

Jones said one of his department's major challenges is its lead response percentage.

With the help of JobsOhio, Columbus 2020 and the Central Ohio real estate community, Gahanna reviewed a total of 1,126 real estate inquiries, or job creation leads, last year. The city responded to 54 (less than 5 percent) of those leads, Jones said.

"We have very limited real estate capacity," he said. "We see a lot of opportunities go by the wayside. We don't have a place to house them. Now the city owns little real estate."

Larick asked Jones to identify critical needs that he doesn't already have to stimulate economic development.

"First and foremost is having potential for commercial redevelopment," Jones said. "We have very little land left. Decisions we're making require review and analysis to make sure we have return on our investment. That's by far the biggest challenge."

He said the city's plans also need to be updated with current trends.

"Plans need to give us the leverage to guide and drive investment," Jones said.

Council member Tom Kneeland asked about external tools to assist the department.

"The CIC (Community Improvement Corp.) has exceeded my expectations," Jones said. "We've been recognized as one of the most innovative CICs with our ability to collect revenue out of general-fund dollars. Our CIC gives the flexibility we need.

"They have the ability to buy and sell land without constraints the city would have," he said. "I believe they are a means to future success with economic development."

Mayor Becky Stinchcomb said the administration is aware of the needs.

"We're part of a team," she said. "It's not a simple task. We're working diligently to figure out how to do this."

She said senior staff members met Feb. 7 and that meetings would continue.

"We're taking an entirely new look at the plan we put out last June about what would happen in 2015," Stinchcomb said. "That was a direct response to what if the (income) tax issue failed. We've had tremendous input from council members, and our own staff has had months to look at alternatives.

"Some of the things we thought we could cut we can't cut," she said. "It's important for us to continue planning, and we'll bring you a comprehensive development plan."