07/10/06 — Eastern Region chief eyes future

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Eastern Region chief eyes future

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on July 10, 2006 1:56 PM

New chief executive officer Albert Delia is hoping he can take the Eastern Region forward after a recent state audit finding that suggested the organization's former leader misspent funds.

Delia took over the helm of the regional economic development group after the audit that revealed former chief Tom Greenwood charged questionable expenses to the organization, including more than $15,000 for a guesthouse rental, tickets and food at the 2005 U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, a two-week, $2,357 2003 summer trip to Ireland and a trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

After new members were selected and the board convened in February, Greenwood resigned from his position.

Delia said he hopes to lead the organization in a new direction.

"There is a perception out there, and we have to change it," Delia said. "I promise -- the first focus of my attention is to make sure our policies are tightened."

While he will not officially take over until August, Delia has already begun working with board members and the staff to create policy changes. He said he hopes the board will adopt a policy "to prevent any questions arising again" regarding its financial dealings.

One of those first changes will be a continued emphasis on open books, he said.

Delia said all public funds must be "transparent and out in the open."

Board chairman Calvin Anderson said he doesn't believe the state's audit has put "a bad taste in the mouths" of industries.

He said if the Eastern Region continues to offer quality services like providing information about opportunities in the region, helping to locate the available workforce and the training new businesses need, the value of locating here will speak for itself, he said.

But, for now, dilligence is the key, he added.

"There was no criminal activity or any money missing," Anderson said. "There was just no forethought to the decisions that were made. And for that, I guess we are all a little guilty. But now we have to go on down the road and take action so that it won't happen again."

When the new board convened in February, Treasurer Jack Best said the group decided to move forward.

"We decided that whatever happened in the past is in the past," Best said. "There was no blame and no pointing fingers. We just wanted to make sure that whatever happens in the future is going to be positive for eastern North Carolina."

Any money spent in the future will have to be approved by all of the board members, Anderson said. The board previously had 39 members, but will now have 13 members, he added.

The Eastern Region is one of seven economic development partnerships throughout the state. The organization represents 13 counties, consisting of Wayne, Lenoir, Jones, Greene, Duplin, Craven, Onslow, Pamlico, Edgecombe, Wilson, Nash, Pitt and Carteret.

Anderson said the organization's focus will continue to be on the economic improvement of eastern North Carolina.

"The area, from a regional perspective, we can't promote an industry to one county and settle for another," he said. "We have to look at it as an entire region."

When the Eastern Region began in 1990s, the group chose to assess itself $5 per year from each license plate fee. Nearly half of that amount has been returned to the region in the form of grants and incentives, which have provided jobs and training, Anderson said.

The state gave the organization $7.5 million as an initial investment. With $22 million to begin the Eastern Region, Anderson said "it gave us a chance to borrow money and put incentive money on the table" to buy land and buildings for interested industries.

For the next year, each of the regions was given $250,000 by the state to create a vision statement and $250,00 to implement its plans, Anderson said.

It was that vision statement that convinced Delia to take the position.

"If you had locked me in a room and told me to come up with a vision statement for the Eastern Region, there would have only been a paragraph's difference between the two," he said.

Delia currently serves as the director of federal relations for East Carolina University. In that capacity, Delia said he has been a lobbyist for the university and its needs. Those connections he has made might be beneficial to his next job as the Eastern Region's chief executive officer.

"All things derive from economic development," Delia said.

And that is one field he is very experienced in, he added.

Delia's economic development work began in New Jersey. Once he moved to North Carolina, Delia served for three years as director for the Small Business and Technology Development Center and as associate vice chancellor for Economic Development at ECU.

Delia is also familiar with the Eastern Region, having served on the Global TransPark Development Authority Board of Commissioners, which later became known as the Eastern Region's Board of Commissioners.

Delia said he is ready to begin making a difference in eastern North Carolina.

"The overarching goal is for the leadership and the people to work as a region," Delia said. "We have to prioritize our goals and push them as a group. I've already started to see that happen."

By working as a group, the organization will be able to act much more quickly, which will hopefully lead to more success, Delia added. Also, by pushing for more jobs and expansion in "a handful of business sectors that are important now and in the future," he said the region could prosper like its counterparts west of I-95.