(Sun Journal (New Bern, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 27--New Bern aldermen approved a proposal Tuesday night to join an economic development organization with Craven County that will cost the city $100,000 for the first five years.
The board agreed unanimously on the joint public/private economic development organization after a motion by Dallas Blackiston and second by Jeffrey Odham. The city manager will serve on the board along with Aldermen Bernard White and Pat Schaible.
New Bern's buy-in to the economic development organization will be an initial $25,000 and then $15,000 annually for five years, which equates to 50 cents per capita.
Timothy Downs, executive director of economic development for Craven County, told the board during a March 18 work session the organization would have 21 members, including three from Havelock, three from New Bern and four from the county.
The other 11 members would be from the private sector and could include Committee of 100 members, manufacturers, Weyerhaeuser, entrepreneurs, utilities, real estate agents and developers and bankers. The executive committee of the organization would include the county manager, New Bern and Havelock city managers and four members from the private sector. The public members would be permanent, but the private members could rotate.
Downs said on Thursday he only has a verbal commitment from Havelock. But the county, New Bern and Havelock officials were planning to meet Monday to discuss the project, he said.
The alliance will be outside the control of a single governing body and will give members votes on countywide business plans, decision making and provide guidance for retention, expansion and recruitment of businesses and industries, Downs said.
Downs said removing the organization from direct governmental control would give it more credibility, flexibility, unity and accountability.
The organization will not follow North Carolina's Open Meetings Law like a government body, Down said.
"I'm fairly certain they will not be opening meetings," he said. "This is a private, nonprofit that will be partly funded by private entities. We will not be governed by open meeting laws, but we will make every attempt to be open and transparent about what happens. ... I firmly believe the elected officials who will be involved will want to share what business is transacted, if grants were given or incentives. We want the public to support it. It's not meant to be clandestine."
Downs said he hopes the economic development organization will be set up this budget year. But there is a lot of legal work that has to be done, he said.
Once it is up and running, Downs said he hopes the organization will do the same thing he has been doing as the county economic developer: "attracting real new investment in the community and directly impacting jobs and business opportunities."
According to the county's proposal, the economic development organization would be set up under "Craven 100 Alliance," a divided entity of public and private members.
The proposal shows a $200,000 economic development budget for the county, or $1 million for the proposed five-year campaign, to be used for salaries, supplies and transportation.
Capital funding for the project from members in the initial first year will be $1.6 million, which includes $1.5 million held by the county from a state reimbursement of motor vehicle registration tax proceeds. Over five years, the alliance expects to raise $892,500 from members and spend $498,500 a year on economic development funding for projects.
At the March 18 Board of Aldermen meeting, Blackiston said he was concerned that New Bern's needs are in retail, wholesale and manufacturing while the county is more focused on industrial businesses.
Downs agreed the county did not have a strong focus on retail and said he would not suggest that the county would try to take over New Bern's efforts with retail. There should be a focus on growing industry and spending money on existing businesses, he said.
Odham said at the same workshop he was concerned how some organizations might look at the proposal, like Tryon Palace, which will lose its funding from the city in the coming budget, and how the city was facing a $2.7 million shortfall.
Also during Tuesday's meeting, the board reduced funding for four noncontractural nonprofits, which will be an annual savings eventually of $100,696 when the city completely cuts off those funds.
New Bern already has spent $85,900 on a branding campaign that's designed to promote the city and attract economic development, tourists and residents. Also, the city so far has spent $60,000 from a $75,000 budget to implement the new brand, according to Colleen Roberts, New Bern's public information officer.
In the past four years, city spending on economic development included $15,000 for the creation of the Economic Development Project Implementation Plan; $1,500 for a grocery store feasibility study in the Renaissance Gateway area; $8,500 for GIS Planning real estate service; and $30,000 in façade grants to business owners in the Renaissance Gateway area.
The city received an Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Grant that totaled $171,000 and included the consultant's cost and development of the Gateway Renaissance Plan. That grant also included a marketing study, which Roberts said would not have been part of economic development.
The city also approved a budget for a community and economic development manager position in 2012 and hired a manager with a salary range of $57,000 to $93,000 in November 2012. The position has been unfilled since November 2013, Roberts said.
In the past, the city has partnered at no cost with ElectriCities and tourism for economic development, Roberts said.
Eddie Fitzgerald can be reached at 252-635-5675 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @staffwriter3.
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