02/08/05 — Commissioners meet in closed session to discuss economic development

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Commissioners meet in closed session to discuss economic development

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on February 8, 2005 2:00 PM

The Wayne County Commissioners met for an hour in closed session Monday to discuss the location or expansion of a business, but no public announcement was made following the meeting.

Closed sessions are allowed by state law under certain circumstances, such as discussing matters relating to the location or expansion of industries.

The board may also agree, in closed session, on a tentative list of economic development incentives that could be offered to the business.

The board will go into open session when the negotiations are complete, and it is ready to sign a contract.

Closed sessions are essential when elected officials and the economic development commission works to bring a new business to the area, explains County Manager Lee Smith.

"In those meetings, the boards give us the permission to go out and negotiate," Smith said. "We can, acting on behalf of the boards, tell the businesses what the county can do for them."

Smith said there were a number of reasons that a project had to be kept confidential during the development stage.

"If you're talking about buying land, you don't want the price to go up during negotiations," he said.

Another reason for keeping the news quiet is because other counties, or states, will try to take the company away before contracts are signed.

"Competition is really fierce, and it's a game of incentives," said Richard Roberson, at the economic development commission retreat last weekend. Roberson is a developer with the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Smith says that it's a constant pressure for counties to keep other areas from "stealing your client."

Also, the county could lose valuable and necessary grant money from the state, if the news about a new or expanding business leaks out prematurely.

"If the news about the project gets out before the grants have been approved, they won't give you the grant," Smith said.

Other factors involved include client confidentiality agreements that the Economic Development Commission signs with the business.

"These are legal binding agreements," Smith said.

Companies may need to keep plans quiet because the move, or expansion, could affect the workforce, Smith said. He said a company could be adding jobs through expansion, or it could be closing a plant somewhere else.

"They don't want to have a panic before everything is worked out," he said.

Smith and Joanna Thompson, president of the Economic Development Commission, said that it was difficult keeping quiet about the business development negotiations.

"We'd love to be able to tell what we're working on," Smith said. "I've sat in Joanna's seat before and people say you're not working on anything. That's hard, because you're working, but can't talk about it."