06/09/05 — Counties demand accounting from group

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Counties demand accounting from group

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 9, 2005 1:50 PM

KINSTON -- Officials from 13 counties demanded Tuesday to know what an organization charged with bringing jobs to eastern North Carolina has been doing with its money over the last decade.

The North Carolina Eastern Region partnership was created a decade ago by the state to promote economic development in the eastern part of the state. It grew out of the former Global TransPark Development Commission and remains one of seven economic development zones across the state that work with the N.C. Department of Commerce to create jobs.

But some county officials don't believe the organization is spending its money wisely.

Dave Quick, who represents Wayne County on the NCER, said the organization has gone nine years without a viable business prospect.

"And now you have budgeted three quarters of a million dollars for consultants and marketing," he told officials at a meeting at the Global TransPark in Kinston.

The 13 counties that are part of the organization are: Carteret, Craven, Duplin, Edgecombe, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, Onslow, Pamlico, Pitt, Wayne and Wilson. The money the organization uses for operation comes from a $7.5 million state grant awarded at its creation and the proceeds from a $5 license tag fee that was levied for five years. The fund created by the two generates interest that also is used for expenses.

The organization's current $2 million budget, which includes $400,000 for salaries and $22,000 for telephone calls, was questioned by several representatives from the 13 counties.

Members of NCER's executive committee and its staff could not say how many documented contacts with clients were made in the past year, but they said they were conducting targeted marketing campaigns.

Tom Greenwood, the organization's executive director, pointed to contacts it has made with the the boat-building industry as an example of the work it is doing.

Greenwood said five boat companies had visited the region, and six others are scheduled for visits within the next two months.

County Attorney Borden Parker said Wayne County officials are concerned about a duplication of efforts between the group and other organizations. Greenwood earlier said the partnership works with existing industries as well as potential new ones. Wayne recently hired an additional person in its Economic Development Commission office to do the same thing because leaders here felt it was not being done.

"If there's a duplication, quit spending the money," Parker said.

The counties also questioned the $90,000 budgeted for staff travel, including trips to Europe.

Greenwood defended the expense.

"This is a contact business," Greenwood said. "If you're not making contact, you're not in the business."

When questioned about salaries and staff evaluations, NCER Chairman Edward Bright said the director was evaluated by the executive committee annually.

Quick was not satisfied.

"That's not a good answer," he said. "I've been on the commission for seven years, and served some time on the executive committee. I've never been given the opportunity to evaluate the director or staff."

County officials also said that the composition of the board doesn't guarantee official representation from each county.

When told by Bright that the composition was set by law, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith urged the other county managers to talk to legislators about changing the makeup of the partnership.

There are 19 members on the partnership board, but only six are appointed by the counties.

"It's imperative that county commissioners sit in those 13 seats," Smith said. "Call legislators immediately."

Smith said that Wayne County is developing a scorecard to determine the effectiveness of its business recruitment and retention program. He suggested the NCER do the same.

"We're looking for a return," Smith said. "We appreciate the presentation, but we could not satisfy the general public with this."

"Revisit your budget and staff," said Wayne County Commissioner Jack Best said. "Look at your trips."

J.D. Evans, the chairman of the Wayne board of commissioners, said he wants to see more productivity out of the organization.