Commissioners appoint panel to evaluate county economic development

A new group has been formed to assess and make recommendations on Stokes County’s economic development efforts.

Last week the county commissioners decided, on a split vote, to create a seven member committee to “reassess the economic development mission and process that is currently in place, review the economic development director’s job description and duties, review the Economic Development Commission (EDC) Board’s bylaws and mission statement and review and analyze all other aspects of the economic development function in the county to include the development of metrics, which would be used to measure the success of the economic development department’s function.”

The proposed committee will be made up of the chair and vice chair from the Board of Commissioners, the chair and vice chair of the Economic Development Commission, County Manager Rick Morris, Stokes County Arts Council Director Eddy McGee, and Interim Economic Development Director David Sudderth.

Commissioner Jimmy Walker suggested including other people on the committee, like King Chamber of Commerce Director Cathy Loveday, but Morris said he was worried that if the committee became too large, it would also become unwieldy.

“I am leery of it getting to big because it may not work very well,” he said. “I would not make it any bigger than seven or eight people.”

Morris said he felt it was important that the committee be formed as soon as possible to ensure continued movement.

“I went to an economic development meeting recently and thought ‘what is the point of having this when we are supposed to be reassessing what we want to do with it,’” he said. “We said we would take a year to reassess it and we are two to three months into that already. It is a waste of time for the economic development group to be meeting without some thought from the board as to what we want them to be doing.”

Commissioner Leon Inman, who serves as the commissioner’s representative on the Economic Development Commission, agreed.

“The board had gotten to depend on Alan (Wood, former economic development director) too much and was deferring to him,” said Inman. “It had kind of become a rubber stamp from the EDC board to the economic development director. I just think this board of commissioners needs to focus on giving that board direction and telling them what we want them to do. What we originally intended was for them to come back to the board with recommendations for development in the county.”

The decision to reassess the county’s economic development efforts came after Wood’s resignation in February, after which the commissioners decided to ask Planning Director David Sudderth to also serve as an interim director for a period of one year while they reassessed the position and searched for a full-time director.

The proposed 2015-16 county budget reduces the economic development funding by $105,114, 57.68 percent, largely through eliminating funding for an economic development director position and funding for the annual Business Expo. The proposed budget also does not provide any funding for a candidate search process.

In January, Wood told the commissioners that Stokes County was far behind surrounding counties in the money it spent on economic development and tourism. He said that at that time Yadkin County spent $228,000 solely on economic development, Wilkes County spent $400,000 solely on economic development, Davie County spent $450,000 on tourism and economic development combined, Rockingham County spent $685,000 on tourism and economic development combined, and Surry County spent $1,085,000 on tourism and economic development combined.

The proposed 2015-16 budget for economic development in Stokes County is $77,120.The budget also does not include funding for a proposal from Wood to boost spending by leveraging private investments in a public private partnership fund that was projected to reach up to $1 million five years.

“By creating this fund and leveraging it by a factor of three or four, it creates sufficient funds to act upon the strategic plan that is currently in place to have significant impact on the economy of Stokes County,” Wood proposed in January. “Stokes County is seeing, as are many rural communities, a decreasing tax base, more pressure on funding and a loss in population, especially among its younger citizens. To reverse, at least to some extent these negative factors, money is needed to support efforts to recruit new industry, both industrial and retail, to support existing industry and enhance and develop infrastructure.”

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

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