Haywood's future envisioned
How Haywood County will look five years from now and beyond is part of an unfolding economic development strategy .
Beginning July 1, economic development efforts will switch from one primarily driven by a county-funded effort to a private-public partnership arrangement under the umbrella of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.
At a meeting of the proposed 23-member board, CeCe Hipps, chamber president, outlined the 14-month effort leading up to the transition and spoke of the initial strategic plan developed by planning committee members.
The plan focuses on five major areas: medical, agriculture, entrepreneurship and small business development, manufacturing and tourism.
Beneath each category are up to five goals, with room, Hipps said, for the board to review and suggest additional measures or changes.
Goals within each area include specific, measurable actions as well as performance measures, something the county commissioners requested in return for contributing $223,000 annually for at least the next five years toward the effort.
For instance, the medical area has these goals — support for the DukeLifePoint acquisition of the community hospital, develop a continuum of care in the county that allows aging in place, continue workforce development in medical fields and recruiting medical manufacturing businesses.
For the kick-off gathering, representatives from Duke Energy outlined company efforts to assist in economic development.
John Geib, Duke's director of economic development, told the group there is no inherent advantage of one economic development model over another. Under Haywood's new model, there will be many people calling the shots, not just the county, Geib said, and there will be a continual need to raise funds. He suggested adding at least a half-time employee to nurture investors.
"The tough part is getting everyone rowing together," he said.
The next step is to find a great leader, something he said Haywood has already done with Mark Clasby at the helm.
"Mark Clasby is a highly respected economic developer in North Carolina," Geib said. "Pay him what he asks, keep him as long as he wants to stay and listen to what he has to say," he said.
Geib warned against chasing new fads and abandoning common sense, something that occasionally happens as areas pursue something that appears almost too good to be true. Instead, "figure out what you want to be and don't lose sight of your strategy," he advised. "Keep your eyes on what this group wants to do for and with Haywood County for the long-term."
Following the meeting, Geib said Duke Energy routinely supports economic development efforts in counties served by the company. This includes charitable giving in the community, direct financial support to the leading economic development group and technical assistance with prospective industries regarding energy needs. At times, Duke even does its own recruiting efforts and matches prospective businesses to communities where there would be a good fit.
Haywood hasn't requested funding from Duke for its budding effort, and Geib said, but then again, the new effort isn't official until July 1. While it might be too late to receive a grant for this year, there's still that possibility "once Haywood asks," Geib said.
The next step, Hipps said, is for Clasby to move into his new office space at the chamber building near downtown Waynesville.
Those at the meeting had high praise for Clasby and his efforts through the years.
"Under Mark's leadership, this effort is poised to take giant steps," Swanger said. He credited Clasby with saving the county's hospital and hitting a home run with the imminent acquisition by Duke LifePoint.
Other accomplishments lauded during the evening included a measure to help defray the cost of Evergreen Packaging Group's $50 million-$55 million environmental upgrade, the recruitment of ConMet, a truck parts manufacturing firm in the Beaverdam Industrial park that started out with 120 employees, and will finish out the year with up to 500 employees, working successfully with Haywood Advancement Foundation to provide private financing such as a recent effort to help Sunburst Trout expand into the Waynesville Industrial Park and helping repurpose existing buildings or arrange for expansion funding such as for Sonoco Plastic, the Imperial Hotel in Canton or the former county building renovated for use by LifeSpan.
As the effort moves forward, one of the first tasks Hipps assigned to the new board members is to review the five-year strategy and fill in the holes.
For agriculture, that includes growing entrepreneurial farming, sustaining existing farms, developing a shared facility, education, agri-tourism and improving delivery, distribution and packaging.
For entrepreneurship and small business development, efforts will concentrate on providing seamless infrastructure, providing programmatic support to existing programs, creating a marketing strategy for entrepreneurial services and increasing access to start-up capital.
For manufaturing, goals include attracting and recruiting new industries compatible with existing industry, maintaining existing industry, expanding and maintaining infrastructure and workforce development.
For tourism, goals include tourism product development, including work towards the passage of an additional 2 percent occupancy tax for funding, increasing outdoor recreation opportunities, improve support facilities and attracting a hotel and conference center.