The Anson Economic Development Corporation met a day late this month, on Friday, so N.C. Rep. Mark Brody could attend and talk with the group about economic development concerns in the region. Much of the discussion centered around SB 127, which would “establish geographically uniform zones to promote collaboration for prosperity” and would transfer the functions of economic development commissions to the N.C. Department of Commerce.
“The Western North Carolina Regional Economic Development Commission (AdvantageWest), the Southeastern North Carolina Regional Economic Development Commission, North Carolina’s Eastern Region, and North Carolina’s Northeast Commission may either wind up their affairs or reorganize as nonprofit corporations reorganized to carry out the same purposes, and the nonprofit shall not receive state appropriations,” the bill reads. In other words, these organizations would no longer receive state funding and must raise all its monies from the private sector.
SB 127 also divides the state into eight “prosperity zones,” according to region. Anson would be part of the proposed Southwest Region, which also includes Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Stanly and Union counties.
The bill stipulates that the governor would decide, with input from county and municipal leaders, how best to spend economic development dollars.
AEDC chairman Chuck Horne expressed concerns about the bill and the negative impact it could have on Anson County. “We’re still lumped in with the Charlotte region,” he said. “It doesn’t make much sense because we’re so rural. We have different needs.”
Brody said he understood that, but the idea behind the bill is to stop state funding for economic development commissions that aren’t showing much in the way of results.
“I don’t see us being aligned with Charlotte, especially with it all being private funds now,” Horne said. “I don’t see anyone here wanting to send their dollars to Charlotte.”
County grants administrator Mary Beck said that the bill has been changed many times since it was first introduced, but the bill that passed the Senate “does away with regional boards.”
“I don’t like any of this,” she said. “We are in a rural area and we need those commissions. That money is very important to economic development.”
Beck said she felt Anson would be better aligned with the Sandhills “prosperity zone,” which includes Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson and Scotland counties, or even the Southeast region, made up of Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, Duplin, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, Pender and Wayne.
Realtor Don Scarborough agreed, but said he felt Anson was better aligned with more western counties. “Our influence and what’s coming in the future, I think, will come from the west,” he said.
Brody said he wanted to emphasize that the Department of Commerce would be making a lot of changes, and he needs to identify the area’s unutilized and under-utilized assets. He gave the example of many businesses that had previously moved to China now wanting to move back to the States. “We’ve got wood products we could ship,” he said. “We’ve got the workforce here, we’ve got the community colleges.”
When asked about the timing of the bill and the direct results, Brody said the economic development commissions that are now in existence would probably still survive; they will just no longer receive state funding.
“I think that will really hurt rural counties,” said Pee Dee Electric CEO Donnie Spivey.
Brody responded that he thinks he can still “sell” Anson County. “I will make the trip to Ohio if I need to, to help bring business to North Carolina. The Commerce Department is going to help more with Tier 1 counties because that’s just good political business,” Brody said.
County Manager Lawrence Gatewood questioned how the Department of Commerce and the state could help small rural counties like Anson. “Even if we aligned with the southeastern counties, Anson County would still be the smallest,” he said. “We have not received any benefits from being part of the Charlotte Regional Partnership.”
Brody said he felt confident he could promote Anson County at the state level. “I’d really like something to sell,” he said, whether it be a large auto plant or smaller employers that could help revamp the community. D
on Altieri told Brody the AEDC has recently formed a committee to help focus on a particular businesses or industries that would best fit Anson County. He said he would report to Brody on any decisions the committee makes.
Wadesboro Town Manager also said he feels Anson County is “really positioned to be a bedroom community.”
“If we can get young professional people to live here,” he said, “jobs will come, too.”
“It’s your decision how you want to make Anson County look,” Brody said. “If you want to be an urban center, let me know. If you want to be a nice place to live, I can do that too. … You decide what direction you want to go and I’ll be there.”
The AEDC will next meet on June 20 at 7:30 a.m. at the Anson County Chamber of Commerce.
SB 127 passed the Senate on its third reading May 14, and was referred to the House committee on commerce and job development on May 16. The full text of the bill can be found online at http://ncleg.net/.