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Editorial: A fractured partnership

By voting 4-1 to withhold funding from the Charlotte Regional Partnership, county commissioners have — as one put it — sent a message to the 16-county economic development organization.
That’s the easy part. The harder part will be resolving what is clearly a rocky relationship between partnership leaders, Rowan and some other member counties that perceive CRP as more regional in name than in reality and are questioning its operations.
The differences are worth working out. Rowan needs the marketing and business recruitment reach of the partnership, and the partnership needs Rowan’s “product” — the development sites, readily available transportation and energy resources, and recreational and lifestyle amenities that make it an attractive place to live and do business.
Nominally, this came to a head over reports that CRP Chief Executive Officer Ronnie Bryant received a $64,000 bonus on top of a salary that exceeds $200,000. You can certainly argue that the bonus represents a disconnect from the struggles of many people in the region, especially when the group receives about 40 percent of its funding from public sources, according to a recent financial report. It’s particularly rankling when you live in a county recently described by a Canadian newspaper as one of the most recession-wracked areas in the nation.
Beyond the bonus, though, there’s the perception of a bigger disconnect — one that sees a disparity between the partnership benefits reaped by the more immediate Charlotte area and outlying counties such as Rowan that believe they’re not getting enough development bang for their bucks. This isn’t a new issue. Complaints surfaced in 2009 that the partnership was spending too much on administration and too little on marketing and recruitment. York County, S.C., threatened to withdraw its membership. Other tensions surfaced earlier this year when some regional economic development leaders complained that Bryant was traveling too much for speaking engagements, to the detriment of local economic development. Although it involved a different regional entity, you can also find some parallel frustrations from 2010, when several counties and municipalities, including Rowan, threatened to withdraw funding from the Centralina Council of Governments, a nine-county regional planning group.
While sending a message, Commissioner Jon Barber said Rowan wants to “keep a seat at the table,” and CRP officials say they want to hash things out. The bonus may be part of those talks, but the bigger issue is determining how the county can improve the cost-benefit ratio of its continued participation. The partnership may be frayed, but it’s not beyond repair.

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