City trims funding to EDC

Published 7:39 pm Saturday, June 16, 2012

A shift in how Washington may approach economic development in the future is drawing some attention.

James W. Chesnutt, chairman of the Beaufort County Committee of 100, asked Washington’s City Council, during its meeting last Monday, to carefully consider its relationship with the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission.

The city’s proposed budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1, allocates $60,000 to the EDC. The city’s current budget appropriated $91,780 to the EDC. The City Council is expected to approve the 2012-2013 budget Monday.

The city’s proposed budget allocates $30,000 for professional services to help the city conduct its own economic-development marketing, according to the city’s Finance Department.

Although Chesnutt commended City Manager Josh Kay and city staff for doing a “great job” on the proposed city budget, he expressed concern about the reduction in the city’s allocation to the EDC.

“I’m not going to beg to put it back. I’m going to ask you to give deep thought about the groundwork that has been laid in this county to begin to do some economic development, to try to find some jobs.”

Chesnutt further discussed the economic-development climate in the area.

“I have watched the negatives comments about economic development in our county, in our town, for the last few months — maybe even some of the negative articles … from the newspaper,” said Chesnutt, who is CEO of Washington-based National Spinning. “What we need is some good news here, and we need jobs. We’re going to have a change in the leadership at the Economic Development Commission. There’s no doubt when you look at the tenure of Tom Thompson that he has laid the groundwork for us to be successful here. But I want everyone to understand that home runs of companies that are going to hire 500 people are going to be hard to come by in Washington, North Carolina and Beaufort County. To put it bluntly: that ain’t who we are.”

One of the area’s drawbacks when it comes to major economic-development opportunities is that it’s not ideally suited for distribution, Chesnutt said.

“Raleigh has done us a huge disservice over a number of years by not doing something about (U.S.) Highway 17. I encourage this council to continue to work with the committee trying to get Highway 17 four-laned from Virginia to (South Carolina).”

Chesnutt also noted that more than a dozen candidates ran in the recent primaries in an effort to win the four available seats on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners this election cycle.

“Guess how many came to see me to ask what does National Spinning Co. and its employees need from the county in order to help us be successful? Zero. Not a single person running for the state House or the state Senate found enough time to come out and talk and discuss about what the businesses need. We are the drivers of Washington. We are the drivers of Beaufort County. Some of us might not be so pretty, but you brought us to the dance, and you need to continue to dance with us and help us when we have issues, at whatever level it is, and make it easier to do business.”

Chesnutt said the city and county need to help small businesses as much as they need to help large businesses.

“As I said earlier, I believe we have the groundwork in place to have a good economic-development program here. I don’t think we failed in where we are. … With your help, with the county commissioners’ help, with the local media’s help, we can begin to have a positive attitude that this town and this county need to have,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of negative. It just doesn’t do well for us. … Again, I ask you to think long and strong about the city’s contribution to economic development.”

Bobby Roberson, the city’s mayor pro tempore, said Chesnutt made some good points. Roberson also said the city is preparing to enhance its existing economic-development strategies.

“I think he is correct. I think if you’re going to be competitive, you got to have an Economic Development Commission that reflects what the community really wants to happen over a short and a long basis. I think one of the things we need to spend a little bit more time on is what is our target in terms of employees. I do agree with him. I don’t think you’re going to see industries coming into eastern North Carolina, at least in Beaufort County, that are going to be a thousand, two thousand employees,” Roberson said Friday. “I think what we need to focus on is the 100 to 250 (employees) type of industry that we can afford.”

One thing the city can do to improve its economic-development chances is to make sure adequate infrastructure is in place to accommodate such development, whether it be a new industry or helping an existing business to expand, Roberson said. While the two industrial parks in the county — one in Washington, the other in Chocowinity — are good to have, Roberson said, more such sites would be better.

“Wherever it works out to be, I think we need to have more than just one site so when we have people come in they have a variety of sites from which to make a choice,” he said.

Roberson also discussed the proposed cut to the city’s allocation to the EDC.

“One of the things is we’re looking at the total package in terms of the economic-development package, and we have to look at the budget restraints as well,” he said. “I wish we could give $150,000, if we knew what we need to do. I think one of the things the city needs to do is actually step up our contribution in terms of our opinions about what the economic-development package ought to be. So, for me, this year with the tight economic-development standards for us, we had to cut. … We had to make a lot of cuts in the budget to actually do the kinds of things we wanted to do, which is, No. 1, reduce the electric rate, reduce those transfers, provide for those (increasing) medical (insurance) expenses at 38 percent or 36 percent. Those kinds of things are important to us. I think that’s a reflection of (the city’s proposed funding) of the economic-development package. We had to make some cuts.”

Roberson noted the city told EDC officials it would reduce its allocation to the EDC.

Roberson said to look for the city to get more aggressive in developing its own economic-development program as it continues to work with the EDC.

Roberson also said the city and areas in Beaufort County near the city should focus on economic-development opportunities such as retail sales, personal services and similar businesses. That’s something the EDC is not inclined to do, he said.

Asked if the city’s intent to spend $30,000 to develop its own economic-development program should be viewed as complementing the EDC’s efforts, Roberson replied, “That’s correct. We’re providing a niche that the county commissioners or the Economic Development Commission wouldn’t even probably consider.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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