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Local

DeKalb to focus on development

To address matter, city will hire full-time staff member by October

DeKALB – Roger Hopkins plans to have plenty of information waiting for DeKalb's new community development director in October.

DeKalb City Council members recently decided to follow City Manager Anne Marie Gaura's suggestion to replace Hopkins, the city's economic development consultant, with a full-time city staff member. The idea was based on an update done in the past two years to a 2009 report by Executive Partners Inc., which suggested the city be more aggressive with economic development by adding a community development director to lead a new community development department.

In turn, the city will end its contract with Hopkins' company, Hopkins Solutions LLC. Hopkins has been the city's economic development consultant since July 2010. He was hired after the city decided not to fill its community development director position and dismantled the community development department in 2009.

“I think we're leaving the city with a lot of opportunities,” Hopkins said.

The city plans to hire a community development director by Oct. 1. Until then, Hopkins will continue on as the city's economic development consultant. The city will pay him $19,728 – $6.426 a month – through October.

Moving the economic development efforts internally makes sense under the current city structure, Mayor John Rey said.

"I think it gives the city manager and her staff more involvement in that function," Rey said. "I think it allows for closer collaboration."

Rey said he would also like to see more focus on areas such as South Fourth Street and West Lincoln Highway.

When he leaves, Hopkins will turn over information on 140 business prospects, as well as information on several areas where he hopes to see more growth in the city, such as the area in the 2200 block of Sycamore Road and the former Mike Mooney auto dealership at 204 N. Fourth St.

Hopkins pointed to recent business developments, such as Faranda's, DSW, Five Below, the Hampton Inn, Dunkin Donuts and the expanded Molly's Eatery and Drinkery, as successes since he started consulting for the city.

But economic development has been hindered slightly in the past few years, Hopkins contended, by something outside of his control as an economic development consultant.

“It's a little disappointing that we haven't seen the residential growth,” Hopkins said. “We'd do a better job attracting national retailers and local businesses if we had residential growth.”

Most retailers want to see 1 to 2 percent annual population growth in new markets, but Hopkins lamented DeKalb has less than 1 percent growth, something he hoped the new director would examine.

The new community development department will be charged with economic development, code enforcement and planning and zoning duties and consist of positions currently housed in other departments. The community development director will oversee the economic development coordinator, principal planner, property maintenance inspectors and an administrative associate.

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