The Transylvania Times -

By Eric Crews
Staff Writer 

Task Force Gets To Work - Brevard NC

 


Work by an independent economic development task force to address the county’s economic development is underway.

During its second meeting Wednesday, the Task Force agreed its first task would be to recommend what – if any – changes are needed in the eight economic development organizations in the county.

The economic groups are the Chamber of Commerce, The Transylvania Partnership, the county Economic Development Advisory Board, the Heart of Brevard, county Tourism Development Authority, the county Planning and Economic Development Department, the City of Brevard and the town of Rosman.

Jeannette Goldsmith, the consultant hired by the county to look at local economic development efforts, recommended consolidating five of these groups into one organization.

The task force plans to meet with the leaders of the eight organizations.

Task force member David Watkins presented 22 questions that could be used in the interviews, which the group decided should be held in a “conversational manner” by one or two task force members.

During public comment, Kimsey Jackson disagreed with that approach.

Jackson believes it is a mistake to not hold the discussions in the general public.

Watkins maintained that holding the meetings outside a public forum would be the best method to get the answers they seek.

“My line of thinking is that this could easily be perceived as threatening,” Watkins said. “You want it to be conversational and exploratory…and realize that what is being done well in the community we don’t want to harm.

“We don’t want to lose what already is effective, as there are certainly many things that are effective. Yet, when we talk about economic development, we are really talking about how to be more effective with what we’ve already got, rather than starting from scratch. This should be an improvement process.”

Karen Gleasman, the task force’s chairwoman suggested there be an introductory process where it is clear to those interviewed that “we are going to question everything…and that we want to bring the best to bear.”

“I think we might get more information if we are conversational, as well as analytical,” she said. “I would allow them to focus in on different questions that are most important to that group. Maybe what they choose not to answer is as telling as what they choose to answer.”

Task Force member Billy Higgins suggested a task force representative go to a meeting of the various agencies to introduce the task force’s goals and set up a future meeting.

Higgins said having an open process is important.

The Task Force agreed those who have not been involved with particular groups should conduct the interviews.

After the conversations with each agency are held, Gleasman said a summary would be presented in a public forum.

Task Force members generally agreed with Goldsmith’s assessment that there are too many fractious, non-government agencies working in economic development.

“What I interpret that to be is that there is a bunch of people that have a similar vision and/or are claiming a vision for themselves and in some ways getting in the way of each other,” Gleasman said.

Task Force member Jackie Whitmire said she has heard stories about people who have found it difficult to move to the area and relocate or start a business.

“We are attracting people to the area because of the quality of place, but it’s not easy,” she said.

Task Force member David Bradford agreed, saying that he found when he was starting a business he knew he had a good idea, but didn’t know where to begin.

He said Mountain Bizworks, an Asheville-based business incubator, offered him valuable assistance.

He questioned if there are similar programs in Brevard that are as easily acces-sible.

Watkins said the Chamber of Commerce currently offers similar programs.

Whitmire said she believes there is not a shortage of great programs, but a shortage of cohesiveness.

“All of those things that we have here are working for us, but they’re not working together,” she said. “It’s not that they’re working against each other. There just isn’t a plan to make it easy for someone to come in and start a business.”

One solution to that problem could be a liaison or ombudsman.

Task Force member Dave Neumann said this person could be an invaluable asset in helping guide people through the complicated process of starting a business. Whitmire believes there hasn’t been adequate funding to do the job properly. Higgins agreed.

He said the talk of having an ombudsman was discussed at least two years ago, but the question becomes who will pay for it.

Higgins said it is important to remember that there are a lot of good things currently being done in the county, but starting a business just isn’t as clear as it could be.

Bradford agreed, saying everyone he has ever dealt with has been very helpful and eager to do everything they could to help him start his business.

In summarizing those re-marks, Gleasman said that in the chemical industry there are energy barriers to get from one side to the other. Then there are catalysts that will help you across by knocking down that barrier.

“We don’t have a catalyst,” she said. “So, the energy barrier gets too high that leads to that risk and uncertainty, and there just isn’t the energy to do it. So, if we could find ways to make the energy to work with us lower and easier that would be helpful.”

In its review of the Goldsmith report, the Task Force looked at the challenges facing the county.

One of the challenges they identified was high-speed internet, but Frank Porter, who manages Comporium, disagreed with that assessment in public comment at the end of the meeting. Porter said he would pro-vide a report on the current status of broadband in the county, saying it is not a problem.

“It is one of the greatest assets we have,” he said. “Out of 16 counties in Western North Carolina, we are the fifth best, and I take umbrage or exception with that because I think we are a lot better than that. We’ve got a great internet system.”

Task Force’s History

The Task Force’s formation follows a recommendation by Goldsmith in February that suggested the county consolidate its economic development efforts.

In April, commissioners voted to set aside $185,000 for the purpose of continuing the economic development process as recommended, bringing the total amount of funds set aside for economic development to $206,316.

During this year’s budget discussions, commissioners agreed to set aside another $600,000 for economic development that could include the purchase and development of an industrial park.

Previously, County Manager Artie Wilson said the first responsibility of the task force would be to make a recommendation on an organizational structure for economic development in Transylvania County.

Wilson said the task force would evaluate the different things that the different agencies do, what their funding sources are and other various details to attempt to understand if there is “a more effective organizational structure.”

Additionally, they would also be tasked with reviewing the current mission, vision and brand statements of the county and modify those as necessary.

“One of the things that was pointed it out is that...there is fragmentation,” Wilson said during an April 22 Board of Commissioner meeting.

Wilson said the goal would be to develop a vision statement that could be supported by all of the economic development organizations in the county.

The Task Force has also been asked to identify target industries, develop industry task forces and work to carry out the strategies.

The Task Force would also be charged with reviewing the current mission, vision and brand statements and modify those as necessary to grow and attract jobs paying a living wage that promote the county’s quality of life and place.

The Task Force is also tasked with developing a first-year marketing budget to present to commissioners for review and funding.

 
 

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