The business prowess of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce is being marshaled by the county to lead its economic development program.
Economic development has historically been a role of county government. But the county will move its economic development arm under the auspice of the chamber this summer.
“The chamber will be responsible for economic development functions,” said CeCe Hipps, president of the Haywood Chamber. “Economic development will be a division of the chamber of commerce.”
It’s not exactly a new role for the chamber. Creating a business-friendly climate and helping businesses succeed is what the chamber is all about. But for the first time, the chamber will be the officially anointed entity driving the economic development train for the county.
The county will pay the chamber a contract rate of $223,000 annually to carry out economic development functions. That’s roughly what the county spends annually on economic development activities.
The chamber is technically a private entity, and with so much county money being entrusted to the chamber, county commissioners will require certain checks and balances to ensure its interests in economic development are being attended to.
The county will get audited financial statements of how its $223,000 is spent by the chamber. The county will stipulate its performance expectations in an extensive “scope of work” outlined in the contract with the chamber — such as aiding start-ups, attending trade shows and developing a marketing campaign. The county can opt out if it doesn’t like the arrangement.
A separate board of directors will oversee and direct economic development initiatives, with a mix of chamber and county appointments. It will operate with some level of autonomy, despite being an offshoot of the chamber. The county manager and county commissioner chairman will automatically serve on the board.
The new model will engage a larger cross-section of the business community in the goal of furthering economic development and job growth, said Ira Dove, interim Haywood County manager.
“The hope is to generate more energy and more success in economic development,” Dove said. “And to make sure all the different sectors that are important in Haywood County are at the table as stakeholders.”
Mark Clasby, the current Haywood County Economic Development Director, will continue in that title, but will become an employee of the chamber.
As part of the merger, the economic development office will move in with the chamber, which has extra space in its building. Being under the same roof will make collaboration easier.
“The big thing it will bring is new excitement and new energy and new thinking on the important issue of creating and retaining jobs in the community,” said Greg Boothroyd, chairman of the Haywood Chamber Board of Directors.
A task force led by the chamber explored the idea of a merger for the past year, including an analysis of other economic development models around the state. Partnerships between chambers of commerce and county government are common.
Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger said adopting the new arrangement in Haywood will hopefully bring greater resources to the table locally to make up for the reduction in regional economic development efforts seen at the state level.
“This will open up the opportunity to go to members of the business community to sponsor special initiatives and projects,” said Boothroyd.
Hipps said she hopes for a smooth transition and looks forward to seeing the new economic development board named. As for the first step under the new merged structure?
“I would hope to develop a clear and united vision and focus for economic development,” Hipps said.