The shift in who will carry out economic development functions follows a larger trend to tap the prowess of the business community in an arena they know best. The multi-faceted quest for economic development — to bolster commerce, grow industry, encourage entrepreneurs, attract new companies, boost existing ones and create new jobs — can use all the know-how it can get from every possible sector.
Greg Boothroyd, chairman of the Haywood County chamber and advertising director of The Smoky Mountain News, thanked the more than two dozen players who invested their time and energy forging a new model for the Haywood County Economic Development Commission over the past 14 months.
“Consider this evening as a convocation as we all enter this next chapter in the EDC of our county,” Boothroyd said.
To CeCe Hipps, the president of the chamber, it’s the talents of those brought to the table that will make the new economic development model a success.
The first meeting of the new economic development commission last week was more than ceremonial. The energy was catching, the enthusiasm was real, the excitement was clear.
“Your leadership, experience and dedication are needed for us to be economically successful in Haywood County and to fulfill the economic development mission,” Hipps told the new EDC board at the meeting. “Our economy is made up of different business sectors, so we need people from those different sectors represented at the table.”
The new EDC board numbers 22, but it takes that many to ensure a cross-section of all the important economic players — manufacturing, tourism, construction, agriculture, finance, utilities and small business, along with representatives from major institutions in the county, like Haywood Community College, Duke Energy and Lake Junaluska Conference Center.
Economic development efforts, from salaries to marketing to overhead, will continue to be funded by the county to the tune of $220,000. Those costs are the same as they have been for the past few years. But rather than running economic development as an in-house function of government, the county will give the money to the chamber to carry out the role on a day-to-day basis.
Mark Clasby, the Haywood County economic development director, will remain at the helm but will become an employee of the chamber of commerce rather than the county. Clasby, who is currently president of the N.C. Economic Developers Association, has been over the Haywood County economic development efforts for a decade now. Clasby was praised for how far he has brought economic development during this tenure.
“We agree you need not find fault in how it was being done in the past in order to find a way to do it better,” said Mark Swanger, chairman of the Haywood County commissioners, who will serve on the new EDC.
The retooling had the potential to be controversial. A first stab at restructuring the EDC 10 years ago was met with resistance. But this time, the new model was embraced unanimously, with any reservations kept private.
“It’s been said before in Haywood County — we argue about it and argue about it and we invariably get it right,” said Gavin Brown, the mayor of Waynesville. “I have an abiding faith and belief in Haywood County.”
The former county economic development commission was disbanded this month to make way for the new one under the chamber.
“There are other ways to skin a cat,” said Ron Leatherwood with Clark & Leatherwood construction firm. “We have a clean palate to come up with great ideas to move the county forward.”
The new model adopted in Haywood is a common one throughout the state, particularly in larger communities with active and robust chambers of commerce that are positioned to take the lead on economic development backed with monetary support from local government.
“Economic development is a team sport,” said John Geib, the director of Duke Energy’s economic development arm and the keynote speaker at last week’s meeting of the new EDC. “I think business people like talking to other business people.”
Geib’s pep talk congratulated the business stakeholders on making a decision to come together.
The transition recognizes the stake that the private sector has in ensuring a business-friendly climate within their own community.
“We benefit a lot from good economic development,” said Danny Wingate with Haywood Builders Supply, who sits on the new EDC.
“Healthy economies are good for all of us,” added John Tench with HomeTrust Bank, who will also serve on the new EDC.
The merger of the EDC under the chamber moved rapidly, but systematically, over the past 14 months. A task force researched models elsewhere around the state and thoroughly examined whether the county’s economic development arm would be better served under the umbrella of the chamber.
The first goal of the new EDC will be rebranding the county’s image and marketing materials, creating a new economic development logo, website and promotional materials that have more “pop,” said Bruce Johnson, owner of Champion Supply.
The chamber is well-suited for this project after going through a major rebranding of its own two years ago.
“A big part of this moving forward will be the marketing,” Hipps said.
The new EDC also includes a cross-section of the county geographically, from Canton to Maggie Valley.
“I hope I can bring a new spirit of cooperation and working with our partners in the rest of Haywood County,” said Ron DeSimone, a contractor and the mayor of Maggie Valley, who sits on the new EDC.
Under the agreement, the county or the chamber could decide they don’t like the arrangement at any time.
“As long as county commissioners are seeing results in economic development, I think they will continue to fund it,” Hipps said.
The mission statement for the economic development commission will stay the same under the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce: “To foster a healthy and prosperous economy and quality of life for the community through the development of capital investment, job creation and entrepreneurial opportunities while supporting existing businesses and industry.”