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 email@example.com.