Meeting opensdialogue aboutcounty’s EDC

LAURINBURG — Laurinburg City Council members and Scotland County Commissioners cleared the air Wednesday afternoon about each entity’s role in the county’s economic development corporation, ending a meeting at the corporation’s building on U.S. 401 with a promise of better communication and greater community involvement as the search for a economic developer continues.

According to Guy McCook, chair of the county commissioners, the corporation’s board has interviewed several candidates for the position, none of whom have been a good fit.

“I think part of the reason we don’t have an economic developer today is we haven’t found the right person,” he said. “We all probably have a little bit of a different idea of what that right person is, but the short answer is we want a $120,000 person for about $65,000 or $70,000. We’ve had trouble finding that.”

The county has been without an economic developer since last October, when Greg Icard, the first to hold the position, resigned due to a personal move out of state. The position was created in 2008 as the county began to take responsibility for recruiting industry into its own hands.

Earlier this year, the top two applicants were screened by representatives from the Scotland County Board of Commissioners, Laurinburg City Council, Scotland County Schools, Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, among others — but neither were found to be suitable.

“There’s some concern about the direction of the EDC and just what role the city is going to play in it and I think the city, in all fairness, is somewhat confused about the part of the city in the role of the EDC,” said Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker, adding that the city’s budget commitment, agreed upon last fall, was through June 30. “It’s kind of an issue we need to sit down and have a frank discussion about.”

Councilman J.D. Willis raised issue about the corporation’s by-laws, asking who is ultimately in charge of the board’s direction. He argued, for one, that EDC board, not the commissioners, should have been the one to pay Icard a $10,000 bonus he received months prior to his resignation.

McCook blamed much on “miscommunication,” saying the county is responsible for the developer’s compensation. The economic developer is a county employee, he said, meaning County Manager Kevin Patterson has the responsibility of hiring for that position, but the developer ultimately answers to the economic development board.

“The EDC is a partnership between the city and the county,” he said, adding that with three of the board’s five members being comprised of county commissioners, the county carries more decision-making power.

Members of the city council largely feel they have been left out of the loop.

Council member Mary Jo Adams referenced “the fiasco” with the Abbott building last year, when, after much debate, council approved a change to city ordinances that allowed a military training facility to apply for a conditional use permit, but the property’s sale to a real estate company was completed before that application could progress.

“That was really hard for some of us on council,” she said, adding that the absence of a qualified economic director was a “red flag” and going on to ask, “Where are we now? Where are we going? What’s the plan?”

Commissioners and council members toyed with the idea of reworking the corporation’s by-laws, but decided that a greater level of involvement — from local governments to entities such as the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, and Lumber River Development Corporation — was needed before any change in direction was made.

“What is afoot here is to be more inclusive,” Parker said. “… The solution is not yet in hand.”

Abbi Overfelt can be reached at 910-506-3023.