02/06/05 — Existing businesses need more attention, Wayne leaders say

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Existing businesses need more attention, Wayne leaders say

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 6, 2005 9:03 AM

State and local industry hunters agreed this weekend that there's a big hole in Wayne County's business-development program -- it is not doing enough for industries that already operate in the county.

They discussed the program at the Economic Development Commission annual retreat at Atlantic Beach on Friday and Saturday.

Existing businesses had emerged as a top priority last year too, and money was budgeted for a new person in the EDC office to do the job.

But when the EDC prepared to hire someone, a member of the board of county commissioners balked and nothing was ever done. That member, Arnold Flowers, has since retired from the board.

Joanna Thompson, the EDC president, credited the expansion of existing industry with the fact that the county had not had a net loss in manufacturing jobs in the past 12 years.

In fact, existing industries in Wayne County provided more than 200 manufacturing jobs and $17 million in investments in 2004.

"Even with 40 jobs lost at Boling Furniture, we still had a net gain of 216 manufacturing jobs this year through expansion of existing industries," said Ms. Thompson.

The attendees broke into four groups that included EDC and Committee of 100 members; County Commissioners, officials from local municipalities, and partners of the EDC.

Developing a program to address the needs of existing industries was among the top four goals listed in each of the groups.

Consultants from the Sanford Holshouser Business Development Group, LLC, and developers from the state commerce department, said that Wayne County's Economic Development department was doing an excellent job.

"But the EDC employees are at their capacity level," said Ernest Pearson, managing partner, of the Sanford Group. "The program is at a good high level, but you need to do some tweaking and examining to get it to a higher level because the competition is not sitting still."

Pearson said that forming relationships with existing industries was crucial because other counties and other states are always trying to get those industries to relocate.

Ms. Thompson said that most of the Economic Development Commision's work with existing business had been reactive, not proactive, due to the staff's work load.

EDC board member Jimmie Edmundson said that the state Department of Commerce often calles about a new business interested in Wayne County. "But then, an existing Mount Olive business calls and needs some assistance," Edmundson said. "Who gets the attention?"

Chuck Allen, a member of the Goldsboro City Council and the EDC, said that it is important that the commission made home-town businesses feel important.

"That's where 70 percent of the jobs are," Allen said. "Time and time again I hear, 'No one comes to see me.' We need one full-time person to do this."

Commissioner Jack Best said some people have the perception that the commission isn't working hard enough.

"But I've been on the EDC board for six months now, and I can tell you that they are working," Best said.

Commissioner Efton Sager said he needed to see hard, accurate numbers about what the commission was doing in Wayne County.

Edmundson said he thought that information had been provided to the commissioners and to the public. The EDC publishes its annual report in a one-page ad in the newspaper, sends out a quarterly newsletter, issues regular press releases and puts the information on its website.

"You need to tell us what else we can do," Edmundson said.

Sager said that he got a lot of complaints about the two shell buildings, and that the general public thought those buildings were a failure since they hadn't been bought by an industry.

"We have to communicate to the public that the EDC is an asset, and not a liability," Sager said.

Richard Roberson and Donna Phillips, from the state commerce department, said that prospective clients wouldn't come to Wayne County without a shell building to look at.

"Coming to look at the shell buildings caused two other businesses to decide to locate here," said Edmundson "Uchiyama and Nordic."

Commissioner Atlas Price said he couldn't speak for the board, but he thought that most of the commissioners wanted the position filled.

Price said that two businesses were closing, but no one knew about it until it was too late to save one of the industries.

"One was lost, one was saved," he said. "When it's gone, you don't get it back. I realize the importance of establishing relationships with existing businesses."

Commissioner Andy Anderson said they needed to "get to small entrepreneurs."

"Well, either we're going to do it or not," said Allen. "It's a yes or no deal. All this talking and talking doesn't get anywhere. We're asking for permission to fill the position, so what's the answer?"

Sager said he wasn't saying that the position wasn't needed, but wasn't ready to commit without the presence of the entire board.

"We don't have to vote, just say yes or no about it," said Best.

Sager said he would like to see a job description, so the EDC will submit another job description to the commissioners.

Ms. Thompson will also meet with Smith on Monday morning to give more information about the position.