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EDC agrees to pull funding from partnership

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó A $64,000 bonus didnít sit well with the Rowan County Economic Development Commission, either.
Members of the EDC Board of Directors on Wednesday said they support a decision earlier this week by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to pull funding from the Charlotte Regional Partnership after CEO Ronnie Bryant received a 25 percent bonus of $64,630.
So far, Rowan is the only county to pull funding from the group. But Carl Ford, vice chairman for the county commission, said the partnership soon could see a ědomino effect.î
ěIíve talked to county commissioners in other counties and all of them are this close to doing the same,î Ford told the EDC board.
James Taylor, chairman of the EDC, said he couldnít believe Bryant ěwould have the audacity to ask for a $60,000 bonus in this economy.î
Many EDC board members expressed concern not only about the bonus but also about what they perceive as a lack of services delivered for Rowanís $36,326 annual contribution to the Charlotte Regional Partnership. The partnership markets the 16-county Charlotte region worldwide to prospective industries.
Robert Van Geons, executive director for RowanWorks Economic Development, said the last projects Rowan landed as a result of the partnershipís efforts were Toyota Racing Development in 2008 and the filming of ěLeatherheadsî in 2007, as well as other film and TV projects.
While regionalism can work well and the partnership has brought Rowan County benefits in the past, ětheir effectiveness, in my opinion … has greatly declined,î said Van Geons.
Rowan had not paid its annual dues to the partnership yet this year. Van Geons said he had advised Rowan County Manager Gary Page to withhold the annual contribution in hopes the partnership would respond to concerns.
Commissioners voted to completely pull the plug without consulting Van Geons, who was coincidentally on a business development trip along with the Charlotte Regional Partnership in Austin, Texas during Mondayís vote. Commissioner Raymond Coltrain voted against the motion.
Several regional economic developers had been meeting with the partnership in recent months to express concerns about the direction and effectiveness of the group, Van Geons said. The partnership is supposed to respond to them in January, he said.
ěI had hoped we would see where that was before a decision was made,î Van Geons said.
Taylor said he had asked commissioner Jon Barber to delay a vote until later in December, after the EDC met and could take a position, but Barber said that was not possible.
Ideally, counties in the Charlotte region have more power in a group than they do individually, Van Geons said.
ěWe benefit from effective regional marketing,î he said. ěThere is no doubt that when it works well, it is far better than us trying to go it alone.î
But Van Geons said while no one at the partnership has any ill intent, he believes the organization has not followed personnel policies and procedures according to its bylaws.
ěI canít sit here and say Iíve seen measureable performance goals that have been met and exceeded,î said Van Geons, who served for four years on the partnershipís board operations committee.
After 19 years of membership, Rowan County should have a discussion with partnership leaders to outline proposed changes and voice concerns about the countyís return on investment, he said.
He recommended the county give the partnership, which has asked to meet with commissioners, an opportunity to respond.
To their credit, partnership recruiters were in Salisbury Wednesday, bringing a prospective industry to meet Van Geons and check out Rowan County properties, he said.
ěThey have provided us with leads, and they are optimistic and I am too that we can get to a point where Rowan County re-engages,î he said.
Without paying dues, Rowan County is no longer a member of the partnership and Van Geons and his staff canít travel with the partnership to trade shows. Rowan loses its representation on the groupís Economic Development Advisory Council.
ěWe donít have that proverbial seat at the table,î Van Geons said. ěWhen my peers meet regionally, we will not be there.î
Rowan also loses access to customized research that has been helpful in the past, he said.
EDC member Pete Teague said he agrees with pulling the funding but worries about what that means for Rowan.
ěIím concerned about not being at the table in the long run,î Teague said.
Perhaps Rowanís move will ěget their attention enoughî to cause change, he said.
ěWeíll wait and see if they get the message,î Ford said.
While the concept of a multi-county partnership may work, the Charlotte Regional Partnership doesnít get it, he said.
ěThe bonus was definitely ridiculous, and theyíre not listening to anyone,î Ford said.
Commissioner Jim Sides, who also attended the EDC meeting, said the partnership focuses only on Charlotte.
ěThey are never concerned about Rowan County,î Sides said. ě… We got nothing for our money that I could see.î
Van Geons had kept the EDC board apprised on his concerns about the partnership before commissioners pulled the plug, he said. He encouraged EDC members and county commissioners to relay their concerns and questions to the partnership for the organization to address in January.
ěWe need to feel confident and comfortable with our investment,î Van Geons said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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