Get involved in proposed economic changes

Dec 03, 2013

As Haywood County and the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce look ahead to a new partnership to foster economic growth, there are a number of unknowns to be faced.

In addition to finding a way through a different system in the county, there’s the uncertainty of how economic development in the state of North Carolina will look after the current system is dismantled in favor of a new “prosperity zone” method based on a public/private partnership.

In past years, Haywood County leaders have worked well with AdvantageWest, the regional public/private partnership based in Asheville. This organization, along with the Rural Center, has provided millions of dollars for projects in Haywood ranging from the recent upgrades to the Champion Drive sewer project and the WNC Regional Livestock Center to decades of assistance in developing industrial parks, helping manufacturing businesses or upgrading infrastructure needed to support economic expansion.

State legislators have made crippling budget cuts to those organizations and both are hanging on by redefining their mission statements. This means Haywood’s most reliable economic development funding partners are no longer in that line of business, and the jury is still out on how prosperity zones will work for rural areas in the far western part of the state.

Added to the state change is the new model being forged locally whereby county funds previously used for economic development will be redirected to the chamber.  The chamber committee studying the idea referenced 17 other communities where the model has been used successfully to leverage public funds with private contributions to grow their communities.

Both the chamber and the county have agreed to pursue the concept, with a proposed launch date of July 1, 2014. As the process moves forward, there are many opportunities to become involved. An expanded board of perhaps 30 members is envisioned, and representatives are being sought for major industry clusters in the county.

Those with ideas on how the reinvented economic development plan can succeed locally can contact town and county leaders or members of the chamber board. On the state level, area legislators need hear from constituents about what’s at stake in the reorganization.

Western North Carolina has been left behind in state initiatives in past years. We need to work diligently to make sure our voices are heard and resources aren’t regionalized to the point that only major metropolitan areas benefit.