02/10/05 — Saving jobs: EDC should add a person to help existing businesses

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Saving jobs: EDC should add a person to help existing businesses

Wayne County’s industry-hunting agency must be an industry-keeping agency as well.

The Economic Development Commission should hire someone whose primary duties are attending to the needs of businesses that are already here. The importance of that was reiterated in discussions last weekend at the EDC’s annual planning retreat.

Most members of the commission and most county commissioners agreed. Still, there is hesitancy among some, rooted in fiscal considerations.

That is not surprising. The county’s financial obligations are heavy, and some of the expenses that face the taxpayers, such as mortgages on the county’s two shell buildings, are related to recruiting industry.

Still, we cannot ignore the businesses and industry that are already here.

The EDC has three staffers, including a president, a second-in-charge and an administrative assistant. The president, Joanna Thompson, said at the retreat that the staff handled 31 visits from industry prospects during 2004.

Such a visit requires eight days of work on average — four beforehand and four during the visit and afterward, according to Ms. Thompson and the state industry hunters who attended the retreat. At the same time, issues arise that make it difficult for existing industries to remain in the county, and the EDC needs to be available to help resolve them.

One official of the state Department of Commerce, Donna Phillips, said that at least 70 percent of all new investment and job creation comes from existing businesses and industries. “It is your bread and butter,” she said.

Consultant Ernest Pearson of the Sanford Holshouser Business Development Group concurred that that the EDC should add a staff member to work with existing industries.

Those who promote job creation in Wayne County also agreed at a retreat last year that the EDC’s biggest need was an existing-industry staff member, and the county commissioners put money in the budget for it. But before the EDC made the hire, it notified the commissioners, and one of the commissioners, Arnold Flowers, balked, citing monetary reasons. With its possibility of a unanimous vote lost, the Board of Commissioners tabled the matter.

Flowers has since retired from the board. Whether there could be a unanimous vote now is not known, but a majority of the seven commissioners have said they want the job filled. It should be done even if there are one or two dissenting votes.

As the Commerce Department representatives noted during the retreat, other counties in other states are trying to lure jobs away. Just as we need to seek new businesses, we need to hang on to what we have.

Arranging for just one endangered industry to remain, keeping one manufacturing plant occupied, could more than surmount the added cost.

Published in Editorials on February 10, 2005 10:40 AM