07/05/06 — Alliance will help bring new business

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Alliance will help bring new business

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on July 5, 2006 1:50 PM

A new, combined economic development effort designed to increase interest in the region and to bring more jobs to Wayne County is now official.

The Wayne County Development Alliance, which began operations this week, replaced the county's Economic Development Commission and includes county, municipality and private sector efforts to recruit and retain industries in the area.

"This is the first time we can actually say that the entire county is united in one economic development effort," Alliance board member Jimmie Edmundson said. "We've been broken up in the past. It was successful, but it was confusing to a company coming in to locate."

The board consists of Chairman Charlie Gaylor, Vice Chairman David Kornegay, Treasurer Lee Smith, President Joanna Thompson, Edmundson, Keith Gunnet, Dr. Ed Wilson, George Kornegay, Ray McDonald, Andy Anderson, Jack Best and Don Chatman.

"Most of the board members have been involved in economic development in the past. They understand the programs and what we do here in the office and the process of economic development in the region, state and nation," Ms. Thompson said.

As chairman, Gaylor said he will preside over the meetings, but every board member will work together and be free to express his opinions and concerns.

"The process of getting to this point was that we needed to speak with a unified voice. It took a while for that to happen," Gaylor said.

Now, the first step for the organization is to implement a comprehensive economic development plan that can be supported by the municipalities, county, community and private organizations, Edmundson said.

Developing this Alliance has been discussed for more than four years with "on and off talks," Ms. Thompson said. Recently, she said, local leaders decided to stop talking and to get to work.

The result will be a county-wide, unified effort to improve economic development for new and existing industries.

It began with the leaders of the Goldsboro and Mount Olive Committees of 100 discussing if and how they could merge their efforts.

Some of the conversations did have their heated moments, Ms. Thompson said.

"There was a lot of honesty put on the table. There were a lot of concerns as to giving up their autonomy. Each wanted to protect its assets. They both worked hard for years to maintain their economic assets in their respective communities. Eventually, they realized they had to get rid of their turf. Those meetings were quite interesting," Ms. Thompson said.

"We've been real frank with each other. It's been a blessing, because sometimes people don't lay their cards on the table," McDonald said.

Board members decided at an early stage in the talks that they should work as a unified organization, Gaylor said.

"The early negotiations were with the leadership of the groups. The main focus was what to do with our resources and funds and how to move forward in the best interest of the county," he said.

To help each Committee of 100 restructure its organization, Ernie Pearson, an attorney in Raleigh, worked to get both sides to reach an agreement.

"Once the two committees were in a mutual place, they approached the county," Ms. Thompson said. "They showed the county their information and asked the county to be the third partner in this venture."

Last October, all three organizations began discussions and were able to find a unified voice, Gaylor said.

After the final details were worked out, representatives from each organization signed a Memorandum of Understanding last December, which "spelled out the initial terms of the merger," Ms. Thompson said.

From December to today, Ms. Thompson said the new organization and its leaders worked out the fine details, including the bylaws, articles of incorporation, employee leasing and the election of officers and board members.

Ms. Thompson said all of the county's seven municipalities will have a role in the Alliance. Goldsboro, Mount Olive and Fremont have already pledged support, but haven't determined how much they will contribute.

"They will all be involved, but we don't know to what degree. We asked them for their support and some have indicated their support and others are still considering," Ms. Thompson said.

Private contributions will also be vital to the success of the Alliance, Gaylor said.

"We need more than the county and city governments' help and I hope the private sector steps up to the plate," he said.

Before the merger, private money that came from the Committees of 100 was used to acquire land, to buy buildings and to fund annual appreciation events. The money also went to architectural planning, soil studies and specifications for shell buildings, Ms. Thompson said.

Any money that was allocated to the Economic Development Commission by Wayne County was used for operational purposes, such as executive and staff salaries, Ms. Thompson said.

Now, with the Alliance's allocations from the county and private organizations, Ms. Thompson said the organization should be able to accomplish more with what it is provided.

"We'll be able to cover our operational expenses, and the board will put into place some policies on how to invest the remaining money and utilize it in the best possible way," Ms. Thompson said.

With a comprehensive plan and investment strategies, Ms. Thompson said the board will be able to do more than let money sit in an account.

"One year, we might need another shell building and then need something else the next year," she said.

The biggest difference between the Economic Development Commission and the Wayne County Development Alliance, Ms. Thompson said, is how the organization will involve the private sector and keep them involved and informed of what is happening throughout the county.

"Economic development can happen so fast. Being a nonprofit opens the door for funding," Ms. Thompson said.

For example, the Alliance could receive money from a foundation or a person or business might want to deed a building to the organization.

Also, by utilizing the private sector, Ms. Thompson said the Alliance can make economic development decisions quicker without having to deal with local government bureaucracy.

"Any kind of big deals, those decisions are still made by the board of directors, but we don't have to give a 24-hour notice. We could meet any time to decide," she said.

To keep private organizations informed about the board's decision, Edmundson said a committee formed by the board will meet with those organizations on a quarterly basis.