“Keep in mind this is only research, and going forward we don’t have all the answers, but the bottom line is there’s a lot to be worked out still,” CeCe Hipps, president of the chamber, said to EDC members.
Chamber leaders have spent months studying models of other private/public partnerships. Bringing the county-run EDC under the chamber’s umbrella would make the economic development process more streamlined and efficient.
“The same folks are sitting around the table trying to do the same thing, and I think this is a great opportunity for the community for us to get together and work together,” said Ron Leatherwood, former county commissioner and former chairman of the board at the chamber. “But, we still have to have the county municipalities behind us.”
In a recent meeting, the county commissioners unanimously supported the plan in concept. Although this was the first time the EDC officially heard a presentation on the chamber’s final task force report, some EDC board members and EDC Executive Director Mark Clasby have been a part of the process since the idea of combining the two entities was first brought up about a year ago.
The concept is now moving into stage two, which involves inviting other community stakeholders to the table in hopes of finding out which model fits Haywood best.
“I think this is a great idea, and maybe this will be a way of growing and moving forward. But, let’s make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” cautioned Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown, referring to previous efforts to reform economic development in Haywood.
If the partnership is approved by county commissioners, the county’s existing EDC board would be dissolved and a new board formed as a part of the chamber. Estimates are that working together could save up to $50,000 in salaries, benefits, overhead and facility costs — monies that could be used for future marketing and job growth initiatives.
The target date for the transition is July 1, which is when the county’s new fiscal year begins.
“If you’re looking around the area, to Buncombe County, to Greenville, they’re bringing their economic development commissions along with their chambers,” said Mike Sorrells, a county commissioner and chairman of the EDC. “It’s got a lot of potential. I think it will help us with a limited budget, and potentially bring extra resources in and expand what we’re trying to do.”