Joint effort with towns proposed
A divided approach to economic development doesn’t help the county or any Union towns.
That was the consensus from county commissioners, during their Monday, March 12, work session. By a unanimous vote, commissioners agreed to terminate the contract with Union County Partnership for Progress after this year. In its place, county staff will work with Partnership for Progress and any interested towns to build one organization that handles economic development for all of Union County.
The groups also would develop a funding formula, to determine who pays for what in the new organization.
“My biggest concern at this point is the city of Monroe has their economic development engine, Union County has ours, Indian Trail has hired someone, Stallings is rumored to be looking into it and with the bypass, Marshville has the potential for tremendous growth there,” county commissioner Jonathan Thomas said. “I’m afraid (if) we don’t get this under one umbrella, in the end it weakens our position.”
County manager Cindy Coto agreed, saying there needs to be a clear line of communication. If companies don’t know who to talk to or if there’s infighting between groups, Coto said, areas can lose out on jobs.
“If there’s a great deal of confusion, sometimes you lose prospects,” Coto said. “If we appear we don’t have our act together, they’ll just go somewhere that’s easier to deal with.”
Building on a study developed earlier this year by Wingate University, county commissioners agreed last fall to pay up to $20,000 for North Carolina School of Government professors Will Lambe and Jonathan Morgan to give different options for the county to explore. Currently, Union County contracts with the Monroe-based Partnership for Progress company to help stimulate economic development. That contract expires July 31.
Partnership for Progress had a budget of $640,000 last year, with 90 percent of that coming from government grants. In a presentation to county commissioners in December, then Partnership president Maurice Ewing said the company generated 75 client inquiries during that period, with 20 to 25 currently active. Out of that, Partnership for Progress gets 45 percent of its leads from the Charlotte Regional Partnership, with 13 percent self-generated.
After the vote Monday, that contract will be extended through the calender year, ending Dec. 31, in order to give the parties enough transitional time to put the new group together.
“We don’t want to cut people’s feet out from under them, we want to give them time to transition,” county commission chairman Jerry Simpson said.
Simpson said he didn’t feel the county needed to create an economic development department, in order to be successful. Instead, he felt all areas would be better served by a joint effort.
“Another department will only add to the administrative bureaucracy and increase the burden on an already overtaxed county staff,” Simpson said.
Currently, Union County pays $2.9 million a year for economic development. That includes $507,646 for in-house planning, $1 million to the Cooperative Extension, $78,937 for soil conservation, $1.2 million to Partnership for Progress and $78,758 for outside agency help.
The previous study, done by Wingate University, found Union County’s current tax status is 84.9 percent residential and 15 percent commercial. Out of counties of similar size and population across the state, that ranks as the third highest amount of residential, next to Harnett’s 87.2 percent and Chatham’s 85.3 percent.
Last year, the chamber of commerce commissioned a study to determine how to balance a good quality of life for Union with the constant growth. The study found more residential buildings require more services.
That study suggested Union County focus on expanding through six specific industries. That includes advanced materials, aerospace, medical products, building products, e-commerce retail and a data center. Advanced materials was the field highlighted as the one with the most potential. By adding 100 workers in the field, Union would see an influx of $139 million.