11/27/07 — Duplin gets closer to new development organization

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Duplin gets closer to new development organization

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 27, 2007 1:46 PM

Almost six months after nearly cutting off Duplin County's economic development arm, officials are working to transition away from the current centralized county government department to a more comprehensive one that combines both public and private efforts.

Earlier this year, while discussing the 2007-08 budget, a controversial motion was approved by the county Board of Commissioners that would have ended the department's funding as of July 1.

That motion was later rescinded, however, after much public outcry.

Instead, the board decided to leave the department in place while two newly incorporated non-profit organizations were brought on board.

That process stalled, though, during the summer and early fall and has only recently gotten back on track, County Manager Mike Aldridge said.

"The non-profits were incorporated, but that was it," he said. "Now there has to be some fleshing out of what these two entities will be."

Currently, he explained, officials are working to get all the players -- the current county Economic Development Board, county officials, municipal officials, business leaders and others from organizations like the Wallace Committee of 100 -- together to begin hashing out a framework of bylaws and procedures. A preliminary meeting to that effect was held Tuesday, but not everyone was able to attend.

The goal is eventually to have the two entities -- one a 501c3 and the other a 501c6 -- operating jointly.

The 501c3, Aldridge explained, would serve as a foundation to raise private funds.

The 501c6 would serve as the operational unit, receiving its funding from the county to pay salaries, utilities and other basic operating costs.

By separating the two, Aldridge continued, the foundation can have a bit more flexibility in how it can spend and leverage its money to attract new business and industry. It also allows the business community and others in the county to do more to support economic development.

"We're looking to leverage some private dollars to supplement and help (the county's) money go further," he said.

The new two-headed organization also would centralize all the economic development efforts in the county, rather than having each area compete against the other.

"We're trying to bring all the players to the table so we can have some sort of countywide effort and have everybody playing on the same team," Aldridge said. "It's loosely based on what Wayne County has been successful in implementing."

He's not sure, though, when the new structure will be in place. But, with current county Economic Development Director Woody Brinson set to retire on Jan. 31, he hopes it will be soon so a replacement can be hired.

"You've got to have both pieces to make this all work, but there's not a real firm timeline at this point. The next step is explain it all to the commissioners," Aldridge said. "This is very much in the draft stage at this point. In fact, it's not even drafted yet, it's just being discussed."

Still, he said, he thinks something might be in place sometime in early 2008.

"There's some tentativeness in all this, but assuming we don't hit any snags with any of the groups, this should go fairly smoothly. The idea is to do this quickly," he said.