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Wednesday, 06 February 2008 00:00

Counties need full-time economic development director

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There’s not a one-size-fits-all model for how counties should promote economic development, but at the very least there should be one skilled specialist on the county’s payroll whose sole responsibility is to promote job growth and help existing business. Put the right person in that position and it will pay for itself many times over.

Both Jackson and Macon counties are without economic development directors at this time. That means opportunities are likely being lost, which is not good for taxpayers.

In Jackson County, officials are trying to decide how to structure the economic development commission and who will be in charge, while in Macon County the question is whether to hire a full-time director. These are important questions, but both counties have lingered too long.

Times have changed dramatically over the past few years for economic developers in Western North Carolina. Use to be the main selling points were economic incentives, tax breaks, infrastructure and shell buildings. But the focus has shifted quickly away from trying to lure big manufacturers.

Now the growth is all in the service sector, retail and construction jobs. Entrepreneurs and small companies form the economic backbone of every county in the region. This electronic age means firms can locate just about anywhere, so there is a growing emphasis on cultivating quality of life amenities like good schools, outdoor activities, recreational opportunities, and the cultural arts.

We believe it is in the best interest of Jackson and Macon county governments to invest in a professional economic development expert. Support staff can include personnel already employed, if necessary, to save costs. Whether the economic developer’s advisory board has the role of hiring or firing the director is not as important as the county putting up the money to hire and pay a director.

That way there is someone who is pro-active and help existing businesses overcome obstacles, can bring entities together to solve problems, and can be there when the phone does ring and companies large or small want more information on this region. Macon and Jackson counties need to quit getting bogged down in the details and put someone in charge.

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