Haywood reboots economic development arm
Unaffordable housing, a lack of broadband infrastructure, a staggeringly low unemployment rate and a relatively high number of job openings have changed the economic development landscape in Haywood County to the point that its chief economic development arm, the Haywood Economic Development Council, must also change.
That’s the point Community and Economic Development Director David Francis was trying to make during a Jan. 18 meeting of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners during where he announced sweeping changes to the way Haywood County looks at economic development.
“We needed to expand our horizons,” Francis said. “I’m having corporations now ask about affordable housing, ‘What can we do to help affordable housing?’”
As first reported in The Smoky Mountain News, a Jan. 4 letter from the Haywood Chamber of Commerce informed members of the EDC, a Chamber entity since 2014, of its dissolution in favor of a new county-run entity.
The new entity will be a 501(c)3 nonprofit called the Community and Economic Development Corporation of Haywood County. As a nonprofit, the CEDC will be able to accept both private donations that local government units cannot, as well as certain grants that are available only to nonprofits — largely in the realm of broadband.
Although the CEDC will be run by the county, it will feature private sector and community participation in the form of a multi-level board.
Permanent directors of the board will include the Haywood County Board of Commissioners chairman, Haywood Community College’s president, the Chamber president, the Tourism Development Authority executive director, the superintendent of schools and the Haywood Advancement Foundation’s president, although all are free to delegate the job to a designee. The county manager must also serve.
Commissioners will appoint directors to two other components of the board — at-large directors and community advocate directors.
Five at-large directors will come from the creative arts/entrepreneurial filed, finance and/or banking, healthcare, manufacturing and utilities.
Four community advocate directors will represent agriculture, broadband, recreation and workforce housing interests.
The board’s executive committee will consist of the CEDC director, Haywood County Commission chair, the county manager, two additional members from the roster of permanent directors, two from the at-large directors and one from the community advocate directors.
The new board represents an advancement in how counties and municipalities think about economic development. Although it might appear that the board’s diversity is a step away from traditional economic development, County Manager Bryant Morehead told SMN on Jan. 10 that the intention is to strengthen some of the community infrastructure that underlies it.
“We’re now seeing different challenges in economic development and we’re actually calling it more like, ‘community and economic development’ because job creation and education and affordable or workforce housing are so intertwined that you really just can’t label it as ‘economic development,’” Morehead said.
If commissioners agree with Francis’ framework, an establishment resolution could be heard before the board at its Feb. 7 meeting. Then, commissioners would set to work holding interviews for the at-large and community positions. Francis estimates the board could be fully populated by the end of this quarter, or the beginning of the next.
“This board’s got a lot to tackle. With that permanent [board], those people are invested in Haywood County. Adding from the at-large and community advocate directors, I think it’s going to be a really exciting board to put together and work towards these different aspects and challenges that we have in front of us.”
Commissioners didn’t have many questions after Francis’ presentation, but seemed generally supportive of the idea.
“It certainly is timely,” Commissioner Jennifer Best told Francis. “You’ve got a big gap to fill there, with unemployment being so low and 1,200 job openings. Unmet housing needs continue to be the topic of many conversations.”
Leave a comment
The biggest issue we face is; low hourly pay. Imagine how long you could sustain, making $10-$12 pr hour????
Housing, is our other issue. The prices are the highest recorded, and no availability.
Try to be thoughtful in your decisions. We have alot if people in need.