Last month, I was very disappointed to see the Moore County commissioners turn their backs on a previously stated intention to support economic development with some public funding.
Lost in the process was an opportunity to cobble together public and private resources in the form of leadership and investment for a process that will ultimately benefit all sectors of Moore County.
There is a natural conservative bias against using public money to entice a profit-making organization to make a business decision to locate or expand within the boundaries of a taxing body. Histories of these arrangements include well-publicized failures, and there is often a “cozy” relationship between an influential elected official and some business organization. Success stories are seldom recounted in the news media.
At one time, Moore County controlled, staffed and funded the process of economic development with rather disappointing results. Retooling was paramount, and today’s development model features Moore County Partners in Progress, formed as a nonprofit, public/private entity with a 501(c)(3) tax status.
Public and private sources have historically furnished operating funds and incentive dollars by means of tax adjustments or cash grants. Incentive awards are often measured in terms of capital investment by the company or by job creation. The Partners’ paid staff is just two people, and I can attest that overhead expenses are kept to a bare minimum.
The organization’s mission is to “add wealth to the community by attracting investment to expand the tax base and increase jobs, wages and personal income — all directed toward maintaining and improving the quality of life for our citizens.”
Few critics would find fault with Duke Energy, for example, for providing matching funds up to $50,000 for a marketing initiative to promote local development. That is a private decision by a corporate risk-taker based on a staff analysis. A project failure is charged to the cost of doing business, and the loss is spread among a large base of utility customers. History says there are far more successes than failures.
The public official answers to the voters, and it is important that any incentive program using taxpayers’ dollars is sanitized by sunlight. Using public money for investment to promote the general good is appropriate under the correct conditions. The public official has to be a selective participant, to seek private partners, and to make certain that the taxpayers are kept abreast of investment progress.
Pat Corso, well known to our community, became executive director of Partners on Sept. 1, 2011. Under Pat’s leadership, several new and potentially significant programs have been organized, each of which requires initial funding before there can be measurable results.
There are no guarantees of success in the economic development process, but stagnation is guaranteed when one sits on his hands and waits for the phone to ring.
We must maintain our unique quality of life, and we must plan for anticipated demographic change. Next year’s golf tournaments will produce elevated sales tax revenues while introducing Moore County around the globe as a can-do environment. One of the real objectives of the proposed marketing program is to recruit entrepreneurs with young families to relocate here.
When those in charge of marketing have a competitive advantage, the visionary will set longer-term goals and use the advantage to claim a generous slice of the pie. Progress is measurable, and the county leadership should revisit the use of tax dollars for economic development. Increasing sales tax income and rising property values might just be a product of such participation.
Word has it that Partners will tap its emergency reserves to fund first phases of the marketing program that its sponsors have named Moore Opportunity. Initial design work is already under way. The key people understand they are constructing a living process that can and should be modified as technology and conditions on the ground warrant.
There should be broad participation in Moore Opportunity by any and all who can provide a point of view, comment on the process, and maintain a positive attitude toward the goal structure. Economic development should stand with education and other collective efforts to maintain Moore County’s special lifestyle for all citizens.
The commissioners should go back to the drawing broad and engage the business community and our towns to request opinion, ideas and funding for countywide economic development.