We need candor from EDC

Published 5:40 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2012

To the Editor:

The Economic Development Commission has not produced a detailed performance report since July 20, 2010. While, taxpayers are entitled to timely, well-documented and transparent accounting from government, EDC traditionally avoids frank discussions, preferring closed meetings and close friends.

Some candor would help.

The EDC has produced nothing but irrelevant research for spending $2,400,000 on Quick Start II; sadly the quality of the planning speaks for itself. The carelessly constructed Quick Start II building stands unsold since 2007, a problem-prone burden to taxpayers, inauspiciously painted in the regrettable corporate colors of a firm that never had enough interest in the project to actually close the deal. Moving into the Washington Industrial Park has proved to be more of a hurdle than an incentive. It is a site where prospective businesses demand substantial subsidies to overcome the exorbitant costs of utilities and double taxation. Quick Start II is regularly rumored as being almost sold, but there is no whisper of at what price or how steep a loss to taxpayers. While the Quick Start II building is steadily losing value at the Washington Industrial Park, the Chocowinity Industrial Park sits completely vacant. These expenditures of $6,500,000 in cash and debt were supposed to make us a second Raleigh. Meanwhile, Main Street languishes, the hospital was sold, the Turnage has closed and “Little Washington” reminds no one of Raleigh.

The “successes” claimed by the EDC are highly questionable. How often have we found grants overstated or heard that Fountain was being reborn? Jobs are announced and, without ever being actually created, are shamelessly credited to EDC’s imaginary achievements. Recently a grant was even announced for plant owners who actually intend to cutback their local workforce.

EDC’s one-dimensional analysis of the damage done to our local labor market by plant closings ignores the fact that our economy has continually maintained its traditional range of employment levels in respect to the regional and state economies. Simply put, jobs lost through NAFTA and other dislocations have been regenerated by free market adjustments; local employment rises and falls in step with the regional economy; and absolutely nobody left town because they could not find an industrial park. The EDC’s handwringing is nothing more than scare tactics and should be given no serious consideration. However, the continual tax burden the EDC adds to our budget is a real and growing problem.

When examining the rates of change for poverty levels, median household income and unemployment in the several counties within our immediate region, it is difficult to see where the EDC has been of any benefit to our competitive position. In fact, as the EDC misallocated more and more of the resources that we could have put to better use, our ranking in each of the above categories worsened relative to our neighbors.

Although the Economic Development Commission makes a habit of doing little and then crowing as if they had “hung the moon,” it has accomplished nothing more than harvesting low-hanging fruit … and little enough of that.