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Haywood’s new economic development commission is ‘on the move’

The newly minted Haywood County Economic Development Commission has hit the ground running in its first three months following a structural revamp that placed it under the umbrella of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.   

“We are giving the economic development commission a fresh, new look. That starts with basically everything,” said CeCe Hipps, the executive director of the Haywood Chamber.

 

The county’s economic vitality is far from shabby. Haywood has been promoted to the top tier in state economic prosperity rankings, a reflection of its robust business climate.

But therein lies the challenge: to shine up the image being projected to mirror the positive landscape on the ground.

It’s been a multi-pronged approach, including readying a new website, creating a template for quarterly e-newsletters, developing a comprehensive advertising and marketing campaign, enhancing lines of communication with the local business community, planning a promotional video and touting success stories.

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Those are all critical to an enticing first impression for companies — be it small start-ups or big industries — looking for a place to set up shop.

“We want to be one of the places where they stop, check us out and consider coming here with their business,” Hipps said.

The economic development commission, which historically functioned as an arm of county government, is now being spearhead as a subset of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, a transition that was formalized in July.

“The economic development commission is on the move in a very exciting fashion. We are setting the bar high with our expectation to market and communicate effectively and efficiently,” Nyda Bittmann-Neville, a member of the chamber’s new EDC board, said during a presentation to Haywood County commissioners Monday.

Haywood County commissioners heard from the new economic development commission at a county meeting this week. Sharing quarterly updates with county commissioners is a condition of the new model that transferred economic development operations from the county to the chamber of commerce.

The county is still funding economic development initiatives, services and programs. But it is no longer an in-house function.

Instead, the county’s budget for economic development operations is now allocated to the Haywood Chamber of Commerce, which in turn carries out the role. But county commissioners want periodic reports from the new chamber-led economic development entity.

Hipps said the chamber is committed to ensuring the county gets what it expects under the new model, including financial accountability for how county tax dollars are being spent to accomplish economic development goals.

Ultimately, the new economic development commission is supposed to support existing businesses and recruit new ones. To bring focus to that far-reaching mission, a survey of existing business and industry will be rolled out in coming weeks.

“It will provide the closest look ever into the workers, services, resources and support needed to make our businesses more successful and sustainable,” Ken Flynt, a member of the new EDC board, said of the survey.

The survey was refined and tailored several times over, and Flynt said it is one of the best of its kind that he has seen. It will only take four minutes to answer, but will provide a wealth of insight, be it challenges companies face in the supply chain or labor pool, to the advantages of doing business in Haywood County.

“We believe the results of the survey will allow us to be more exacting in how we do economic development,” Flynt said.

One thing hasn’t changed with the merger: the person who actually holds the title of economic development director. Mark Clasby, who spent 10 years as the county economic development director, stayed on through the transition. He had essentially been a one-man agency of the county, but is now an employee of the chamber.

Clasby has continued his primary role of ensuring the needs of the county’s major industries are being met and cultivating leads from prospective industries, Hipps said.

County commissioners were pleased with the status report they heard this week.

“I want to thank you all for the time, effort and energy you have put into the restructuring we are trying to do. Once this comes to fruitation, it will make Haywood County better,” Commissioner Mike Sorrells said.

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