Danville Boyle County Development Corporation hires director

Published 11:21 am Monday, February 27, 2023

The Danville Boyle County Development Corp. hired a new director, JJ Harris.

The organization did not have a permanent director for a year-and-a-half. Interim Director Terry Crowley came on board in August 2022 to help the organization through its transition from the Economic Development Partnership to the DBCDC.

Harris is originally from southern Indiana. He was executive director of Bedford Urban Enterprise Association in Bedford, Indiana, a community economic development organization, for 13 years from 1995 to 2008.

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During his time there, he worked on community- and business-development programs, and construction management projects. He worked with the local government on building projects, recruitment and all types of new industry.

In 2008, he was called to active duty for seven years. In 2016, he became president and CEO of Laramie Chamber Business Alliance in Wyoming. There he worked on community-development and other industrial projects.

In 2018, Harris moved to Fleming Island, Florida to be President of Clay County Economic Development Corp. He worked on solar farms, mining projects and helped oversee $566 million of new investment over three years, which brought 350 new jobs to the area.

He stayed there until 2021, then moved back to southern Indiana where he has been a real estate agent.

After touring Danville and Boyle County, Harris said he fell in love with the area. He also wanted to still be close enough to family.

Since the DBCDC restructured to having nine board members, as opposed to 17 members when it was the EDP, part of Harris’ job is to work on a more effective outline.

“As you begin your strategic planning process, you’re basically building a new organization from the ground up,” Harris said. “You’re not reinventing the wheel, but the partnerships that are represented and how the committees are formed is the structure, and the organizational chart is what we’re going to work on.”

He said they will go through the economic development planning process, structure the organization to where it’s streamlined, and to where decision-making is simple and transparent.

One way that Harris said can make the organization more streamlined is to narrow the number of committees down to just a few.

Current committees include the workforce development committee, workforce housing, asset development, marketing and recruitment, personnel committee, and finance committee.

Harris said having too many committees can delay decisions. He explained that a typical decision has to go to the chairman, the board has to approve it at a monthly meeting, then it goes to one or multiple committees which meet at different times, then back to the board.

He said he thinks the board is open to streamlining the process to where decisions can be made within one or two board meetings.

“That way you’re not trying to find seven people to make a decision and get it approved, it streamlines the organization, and the ability to move quickly and rapidly at the pace of business,” Harris said.

Harris said they will measure success by typical metrics, like dollar amount of investment, new jobs created, effective partnerships, and removing barriers to development.

Harris understands that there’s history in the organization to keep in mind, including past processes and past mistakes. The county government in particular has expressed discontent with past processes, and emphasized the need for major change.

Harris said he’s cautiously optimistic about being able to work with everyone. Coming in he will first focus on learning the personalities, so he can gently persuade and offer advice.

“Old perceptions will always be there no matter what, even with the fresh perspective that’s coming in, so it’s a fine dance,” Harris said.

DBCDC will be changing Harris’ title from “executive director” to “president and CEO.” With the focus on streamlining, in addition to regular site searches and information requests, they may eventually hire an office management or marketing position.

Another thing to figure out is how to incorporate working with the new Economic Development Authority, which was formed in 2021 for land acquisition.

Despite the challenge of incorporating new processes, Harris said Boyle County’s organizations are not much different than other places he’s worked.

Their main goal is still to recruit and develop business, being nimble so as not to slow development, be an economic development champion for the area, and fit in with all the partners including the chamber, tourism, and city and county government.