When you get to a certain level, this is how things ‘get done’. This Houston Press story is about the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council. At its root, that’s a local story, but roots are the invisible part. Replicate this story by the many thousands of counties, cities and miscellaneous business groups in the United States and you see on an escalating scale how, behind closed doors, things ‘get done’.
For A Price, You Can Get Behind the Closed Doors of Fort Bend Business
Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 6 a.m.(Houston Press)
At just after 7 a.m. on a mid-September day, a visitor made it no farther than just inside the glass doors of the development council. About 30 or so directors, mostly white, male, in their fifties, wearing dark suit coats and with the tops of their Men’s Wearhouse dress shirts open, wandered about inside a meeting room off the main office, sipping coffee from paper cups. On each high-backed leather chair, both around large tables and around the sides of the room, sat meeting agendas emblazoned with the Greater Fort Bend Economic Development Council’s logo.
“May I help you?” a woman asked in the tone of someone addressing a homeless person seeking a seat at Fleming’s. She summoned council CEO Jeff Wiley, a cool-headed, well-coiffed gentleman with a brunette shock of hair. “This is a private meeting,” Wiley advised, not unpleasantly. He is friendly but serious.
Why? Aren’t these people doing the work for the public? Some of the people in there are employed by the cities and the school districts and the county. “Yes, but they are business leaders,” Wiley said. Okay, but can’t we just hear what they’re talking about? After all, isn’t this to benefit the whole county? What is so secret? “There is nothing secret. It’s a private meeting,” Wiley said.
Millions of dollars are spent and generated by the Fort Bend economic development group, which draws up a legislative agenda and advises local municipalities and school districts on political stances and strategies. It is often the first group to greet prospective corporate leaders who may be looking to come to the county.