Representatives from the Charlotte Regional Partnership spoke at the Anson Economic Development Corporation’s March meeting, urging the county to rejoin the 16-county organization, which encourages economic development.
Anson County left the organization last year, at the recommendation of County Manager Lawrence Gatewood. “We were questioning this investment and really couldn’t find what we’re getting out of it,” Gatewood said at the June 2012 meeting of the AEDC, adding that the county pays $7,000 a year to be part of the partnership.
Charlotte Regional Partnership president and CEO Ronnie Bryant told the AEDC Thursday that leaving the partnership was a mistake. He pointed out that of the 16 counties that are part of the organization, Anson received the most financial support, while Mecklenburg received the least.
“We want to help Anson County be able to better position itself for economic development,” Bryant said. He added that the partnership can provide many resources not currently available to the county, as well as all of its grants applications, a duty currently performed by Mary Beck.
“On top of that, there needs to be an attitude in Anson County that this is what you want,” Bryant said. “When [former economic development director] Misty [Harris] was here, she invited us to speak with about 20 of what we call first responders. But she felt there were some that didn’t want businesses to locate here.”
Since Harris left the director position, Beck has been filling that role. “If you don’t have the resources to fund a full-time economic development director, we can help,” Bryant said. “But we need to know where we stand.”
Bryant said he’s also reached out to Gatewood, but the county manager “has no interest in meeting with me.” Gatewood was not present at Thursday morning’s meeting.
Ken Harris of Wells Fargo, a member of the Charlotte Regional Partnership board of directors, also spoke at the AEDC meeting. “I’ve been coming to Anson County for over 20 years,” he said. “I really want to help. Anson County is a diamond in the rough… there is plenty of water and sewer here, plenty of potential for new business.”
Harris said that much of the information online about Anson County is out of date, some of it dating back to 2005. He also said the county should leverage its relationships with Wingate University, South Piedmont Community College and Carolinas Healthcare System to help improve its marketing.
“Anson needs to be in the partnership, even if the county doesn’t fund it,” Harris said.
AEDC member Fred Sparger stated, “We’re kind of in a quandary here because we have nothing to sell. And you’re in an organization that’s marketing that we don’t have anything to sell.”
“I think you do have something to sell,” Harris argued.
“We are offering the expertise to help you develop this county,” Bryant added.
Sparger said the county needs zoning in order to push development, and Harris agreed. “We need to protect the agricultural areas, for sure. That’s something we don’t have much of in Union County. But we could have industrial zones.”
AEDC chairman Chuck Horne said that last year when the issue came up, many of the members of the AEDC had discussions with Gatewood about the partnership.
He said Bryant was “spot-on” in his desire to meet with the county commissioners. “This organization has suggested a public-private partnership,” Horne said. “It has been declined for reasons that go back many years.”
“We don’t have the product,” Sparger reiterated. “We don’t have a site, we don’t have a spec building.”
“For $7,000, you have access to the same resources Mecklenburg County has for $300,000,” Bryant said.
Realtor Carroll Anderson pointed out that one of the biggest differences between the Charlotte Metro area and Anson County is the willingness of citizens to sell their land. “Misty and everyone else has run into that same roadblock,” she said.
Harris said that Lincoln County had the same issue, and the Charlotte Regional Partnership helped that county recover. “Some families had their land for 300 years,” he said. “But we started a public-private partnership, and they’ve gone from not having a business park to having one of the best in the state.”
He suggested that the AEDC and commissioners might come up with a list of conditions for the Charlotte Regional Partnership to achieve before the county will rejoin. “I really want Anson County to get back in the game,” he said.
In other business during the meeting, Thomas Cureton gave the AEDC an update on the Farm Fresh Ventures program, which provides fresh produce to six counties in North and South Carolina for a monthly subscription. So far, the program has about 20 subscriptions, Cureton said.
Cooperative Extension director Janine Rywak said that Anson has 10 core farmers participating in the program, and that it is a “farmer-owned cooperative.”
The boxes of produce contain five to seven in-season produce items, and will include a newsletter detailing what’s coming up.
For more information on Farm Fresh Ventures, call 704-694-2415 or email email@example.com.
The AEDC will next meet at 7:30 a.m. on April 18 at the Chamber of Commerce, 107-A E. Wade St., Wadesboro.