North Carolina’s new private economic development and marketing agency opened its doors Monday at 15000 Weston Parkway in Cary, taking over roles historically performed by the state Commerce Department.
A public-private partnership for job recruitment and retention was one of the first changes Gov. Pat McCrory envisioned after his election in late 2012. Nearly two years later, email addresses and phone numbers were being assigned Monday to the first employees of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
“North Carolina is open for business,” McCrory said in a news release. “We have a new office, a new structure and a bold new approach for how we sell this state.”
Through a contract with the Commerce Department signed late last week, the partnership will oversee the state’s efforts in economic development and international trade, as well as tourism, film and sports development. Partnership officials say they will foster collaboration between businesses and government, local and regional development organizations, community leaders and state universities and community colleges.
The partnership begins with 34 employees, most of whom previously promoted economic development at the Commerce Department. It is expected to grow as necessary in response to specific needs. A partnership official has said it could have as many as 60 employees by year’s end. Through the process of moving the Commerce Department functions to the new agency, about 22 former state employees lost their jobs without being offered jobs with the partnership, state officials have said.
Charlotte businessman John Lassiter, chairman of partnership’s interim board of directors, said the new structure would give North Carolina a “big competitive advantage” over other states because it would use both public and private dollars to promote the state.
In a phone interview, Lassiter said the partnership has raised slightly less than $500,000 from private donors. It was required to raise $250,000 before receiving its first state appropriation. The state also requires the partnership to meet additional private fundraising goals each year in order to receive about $17.5 million annually in state funding.
Lassiter declined to release the names of donors, saying it would report that information with federal tax forms and to the General Assembly when required. He said the private money could be used to pay higher salaries to attract more qualified employees, as well as travel expenses and other business recruitment expenses.
“We’ve got investors who believe in us,” Lassiter said. “We’re going to treat that money as if it were our own and make sure it is used in a way that maximizes its value and creates additional opportunities for North Carolina to grow jobs and expand its business base.”
A five-member interim board is leading the partnership, but Lassiter said McCrory and state legislative leaders are expected to make appointments to a 17-member board required by statute, perhaps by the end of October.
The partnership’s website, edpnc.com, went live Monday.
Rep. Tom Murry, a Republican from Morrisville, who helped draft legislation creating the framework for the partnership, said government entities typically aren’t good at marketing and sales. Turning the commerce functions over to a private nonprofit “will help us be more like the private sector when we’re talking to the private sector about coming to North Carolina and creating jobs,” he said.
Cary, he said, would now be the “front door” for economic development in the state.
“Having the outskirts of the Research Triangle Park as the front door for economic development in the state of North Carolina is better than having to go to downtown Raleigh and get in a government elevator,” Murry said.
Asked about any reservations about the partnership, Murry said it must be transparent and must meet the fundraising thresholds spelled out in state law along the way.
“It’s got to be a true public-private partnership,” he said. “We’ve got to hit our fundraising goals, and we’ve got to be transparent to make sure people are comfortable with how the partnership is conducting business.”
Patrick Gannon writes for the NCInsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer.