FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) -- A legislative oversight committee on Thursday approved an $8.5 million contract with a new non-profit that currently has an economic development official as its top official.
The Government Contract Review Committee last month deferred action on the contract the Economic Development Cabinet entered into with the Commonwealth Center for Commercialization, or C3, which has former Cabinet Secretary Terry Gill on the board of directors and Brian Mefford, executive director of the Cabinet’s Office of Entrepreneurship, as interim unpaid president.
State Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, co-chair of the committee, who had asked for the delay, opened by saying about the contract, “This looks funny. I don’t mean in terms of being humorous. It’s unique, it’s different, because it’s not how we have traditionally done business with this particular item.”
Mefford, who testified before the committee, responded: “This contract represents change that is aimed at improving the quality and quantity of high-growth, innovation-driven businesses across Kentucky.”
He told the committee that the Cabinet is in the process of rewriting the state’s innovation and entrepreneurship strategy and C3 is a part of that.
“We are interested in simply in introducing new ideas and methods that will have the impact of diversifying our economy,” he said.
Mefford explained C3 will tap into the innovation happening at the state’s universities. “Leveraging that into a natural resource, to support new business creation, as well as the application of technology and existing businesses.”
When asked by Meredith why the Cabinet could not do this in house, Mefford says state law requires them to do it through a separate non-profit organization, and that the Kentucky Science and Technology Center in Lexington, which had been serving in that role, is not doing enough.
“There are a lot of good things that have happened,” Mefford said, “They were brought in 20-some years ago, and the inertia of state government, in part, took over. Expectations weren’t necessarily met.”
Mefford also told the panel that C3 will save money and be more efficient, with more accountability and transparency.
“Weekly reports on activities, monthly reporting of outcomes, quarterly reports to track those outcomes, and then an annual report which we will bring to the legislature each year,” he said.
The funding for C3 will be divided almost equally between investment in companies and grants, Mefford said.
He says the Cabinet has also worked with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission to ensure everything is aboveboard and, although they heard no objections, they are awaiting a written opinion.
After one lawmaker suggested delaying contract approval for another month, Mefford said every month they wait means another loss to the state.
The contract was then approved with only one “no” vote.