New economic development strategy holds promise

Jun 18, 2014

Beginning July 1, Haywood County’s economic development program will change.

For the past decade, economic development efforts have been spearheaded by the county, which has put up most of the $250,000 or so annual budget, with some contributions from municipalities.

The changing economic development environment in the state that upended programs such as the Rural Center and Advantage West that had traditionally partnered with efforts in Haywood helped spur the changes locally.

As the state moved toward a private-public partnership model last year, county leaders were faced with a choice of updating their strategy for recruiting, retaining or otherwise promoting job-creating endeavors, or perhaps being left behind.

A decision was made to explore relocating economic development efforts under the umbrella of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, and a committee was formed to explore the possibility and, if it was deemed feasible, to come up with measurable action targets the new effort would achieve.

Presentations were made at county commissioner meetings along the way, and each step brought the new strategy closer to fruition, including the action taken Monday that dissolved the county’s economic development commission and reaffirmed a memorandum of understanding with the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.

There is now a 23-member board that oversees economic development in the county. Luckily, Mark Clasby, who has served at the helm of the county’s EDC effort for the past 11 years, will simply move offices from the county to the chamber complex near downtown Waynesville.

His continued service will help with a smooth transition, and bring years of experience and knowledge to the new effort. Clasby is the chairman of the state economic developers association, which is a testament to the respect he’s earned far beyond Haywood County.

While paid staffers largely implement the EDC programs, the new board has plenty of responsibilities as well.

Although the county will still contribute almost as much funding as in the past, the whole idea of a restructure was to attract additional funding and breathe new life into the program through an expanded board.

A volunteer group roughed out a set of priorities and directives to prepare for the transition, but it will be the responsibility of the new board to refine the goals and make jobs happen.

There are concerns that with such a large governing body, the process could get bogged down. Let’s hope the chamber finds a way to avoid that pitfall as they seek to make a difference in our county.

Best of luck to those in charge of the new effort. Haywood County’s future literally depends on it.