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Public-private partnership proposal presented


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A six-month study found busi­ness and com­mu­nity lead­ers across Pitt County be­lieve a more col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach is needed to im­prove eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, but there are ques­tions about whether the pub­lic sec­tor is will­ing to con­trib­ute money to the process.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Con­ver­gent Non­profit So­lu­tions and Creative Con­sul­tant Stud­ies pre­sented the re­sults of the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment study to the Pitt County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, Greenville City Coun­cil and Pitt County Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion on Mon­day. They also are sched­uled to make a fourth pre­sen­ta­tion to the Com­mit­tee of 100, a pri­vate group that sup­ports eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives, to­day.

Fol­low­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion, the Pitt County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers unan­i­mously voted to sched­ule a work­shop ses­sion to re­view the study’s find­ings and de­cide what, if any, ac­tions the board would take. Last month sev­eral com­mis­sion­ers ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the process, feel­ing it would un­der­cut the county’s au­thor­ity over eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties and the rev­enue the county ded­i­cates to the Pitt County Devel­op­ment Com­mis­sion.

“I think ev­ery­body in this room is very sup­port­ive of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment,” Com­mis­sioner Jimmy Gar­ris said, but there are many unan­swered ques­tions about the pro­posed gov­er­nance and the pri­vate sec­tor’s con­tri­bu­tions.

“What I am in­ter­ested in is the con­tri­bu­tions of the stake­hold­ers,” he said. “How much they are will­ing to write a check for.”

The Con­ver­gent staff con­ducted 61 in­ter­views with 69 peo­ple from across Pitt County, in­clud­ing elected of­fi­cials, busi­ness peo­ple and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the fields of ed­u­ca­tion and non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions, said Rick Kier­nan, a prin­ci­pal with Con­ver­gent.

Seventy-one per­cent of the peo­ple in­ter­viewed de­scribed the lo­cal econ­omy as good and 23 per­cent de­scribed it as fair.

The peo­ple in­ter­viewed said busi­ness re­cruit­ment is ham­pered be­cause of “frac­tion­al­ized” eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ef­forts, no cer­ti­fied sites for in­dus­try to build, a short­age of work­ers, prob­lems with traf­fic and con­ges­tion, air­port re­li­a­bil­ity and a poor per­cep­tion of Pitt County Schools. The par­tic­i­pants said that per­cep­tion is chang­ing, Kier­nan said.

Forty-five per­cent of par­tic­i­pants said cur­rent eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ef­forts were ef­fec­tive; only 15 per­cent of peo­ple in­ter­viewed be­lieved cur­rent eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ef­forts were very ef­fec­tive, he said. How­ever, 74 per­cent be­lieved uni­fy­ing eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ef­forts was im­por­tant.

Seventy-eight per­cent of peo­ple in­ter­viewed said they sup­ported cre­at­ing a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship.

More than half the peo­ple in­ter­viewed said they thought the part­ner­ship could raise $2.75 mil­lion in do­na­tions over a five-year pe­riod, he said.

“Three out of five said yes. Frankly that is more than we ex­pected,” Kier­nan said. Those who did not think it was re­al­is­tic did think $1.5 mil­lion could be raised.

When asked if they would help with fundrais­ing, 42 per­cent said yes and 51 per­cent said they would make in­tro­ductions to po­ten­tial donors, Kier­nan said.

Based on their re­sponses, Kier­nan said the pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship could re­al­is­ti­cally raise $2.5 mil­lion to $3 mil­lion dur­ing a five-year pe­riod.

Randy Wal­ters, chair­man of the de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion, was doubt­ful.

“We have a lot of cap­i­tal cam­paigns go­ing on in Pitt County right now,” Wal­ters said, and sev­eral new ones soon will be­gin. “The base of get­ting money will be highly, highly di­luted in the next cou­ple of months,” he said.

Kier­nan said he be­lieves com­panies would not use char­i­ta­ble dol­lars but other sources to fund the part­ner­ship.

Wanda Yuhas, the de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said the Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Part­ner­ship of North Carolina was formed with the pur­pose of hav­ing pri­vate busi­nesses con­trib­ute to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the state. It never has raised the pred­i­cted amount of pri­vate do­na­tions. There were unan­tic­i­pated fac­tors, such as the pas­sage of HB2, that ham­pered fundrais­ing, Kier­nan said.

The study found peo­ple wanted to avoid “pay for play” sce­nar­ios where large donors had an out­sized pres­ence on the part­ner­ship’s gov­ern­ing body.

Cyn­thia Mor­phis with Creative Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Con­sult­ing said one gov­er­nance model would cre­ate three cat­e­gories of board mem­bers. First would be sus­tain­ing mem­bers, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the city of Greenville and Pitt County gov­ern­ment. Each en­tity would have three ap­pointees with one of the county ap­pointees be­ing the chair­man of the de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion. Each en­tity also would con­trib­ute to the part­ner­ship’s fund­ing.

Se­cond would be the mu­nic­i­pal mem­bers, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Pitt County’s nine other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that con­trib­ute fund­ing to the al­liance. Mor­phis said this group would have three seats that ro­tate be­tween the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. The fi­nal cat­e­gory would be the in­vestors. Top in­vestors would get a seat on the board, she said. The amount of money used to de­fine a top in­vestor still must be de­ter­mined. It also was rec­om­mended that nine seats be set aside for other in­vestors, again based on vary­ing lev­els of do­na­tions that would be iden­ti­fied as gold, sil­ver and bronze lev­els, Mor­phis said.

“This would al­low even the small­est of busi­nesses to be part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion,” she said. Non-vot­ing seats also would be made avail­able to mu­nic­i­pal rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the school sys­tem, Pitt Com­mu­nity Col­lege and other en­ti­ties.

Com­mis­sioner Tom Coul­son said the model Mor­phis pro­posed would cre­ate 15-18 seats com­pared to Pitt County’s three seats. Wal­ters said he be­lieved the de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion’s board makeup best rep­re­sented the county’s smaller towns and its un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas.

Mor­phis said the de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion should re­main in­tact when the process begins be­cause of its tax­ing au­thor­ity. Pitt County Man­ager Scott El­liott said the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, not the de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion, had the tax­ing au­thor­ity.

Mor­phis said over time the con­ven­tion and vis­i­tors bu­reau, Up­town Greenville and the Cham­ber of Com­merce could be in­cor­po­rated into the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s op­er­a­tions.

Launch­ing the part­ner­ship would be a five-month process that would begin in Jan­uary with the ap­point­ment of a tran­si­tion board and in­terim CEO. In the third month, ex­ist­ing de­vel­op­ment staff would be­gin work­ing in the same of­fice. Month four would see a com­pre­hen­sive pro­gram of work de­vel­oped and month five would set the bud­get, fi­nal­ize the board struc­ture, strate­gic plan and plan of work. A search for a per­ma­nent CEO also would be­gin.

Like the Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, the de­vel­op­ment board took no ac­tion fol­low­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion.

Mem­bers of the Greenville City Coun­cil had ques­tions mostly con­cern­ing the de­tails in­volved in set­ting up the joint or­ga­ni­za­tion.

District 5 Coun­cil­man Will Litch­field asked whether the plan would re­quire ad­di­tional spend­ing by the city and re­quested city staff re­search the to­tal fund­ing used by the county and city for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

City Man­ager Ann Wall said the plan would uti­lize roughly the same fund­ing by the city and that pri­vate part­ner­ships are de­signed to work with city and county in­vest­ment, not re­place it.

Seth Thomas Gulledge con­trib­uted to this re­port. Con­tact Ginger Liv­ingston at gliv­ingston@re­flec­tor.com.